New Minister is a man in a hurry

The new Minister, Simon Harris was fast out of the traps following his appointment to the Health portfolio in the new Fine Gael minority government. Maureen Browne reports.

Simon Harris T.D.
Simon Harris T.D.

Within 24 hours he had announced what he said was a major initiative to try and tackle problems in the health system and warned St. Vincent’s University Hospital and the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street to “sort out” their differences.

But then he is a man in a hurry. Like his predecessor Leo Varadkar, Simon Harris, is young, articulate and spoken of as a future leader of Fine Gael.

He is also obviously delighted to be given the major health portfolio at the age of 29 and following just five years in the Dail. “ Ready to give this major challenge my all. Excited and energised. Will do my very best. Honoured to be Minister for Health,” he tweeted following his appointment.

He also said he was well aware of the serious challenges facing him as Minister.

He said he was surprised to have been appointed to the position by Taoiseach Enda Kenny – but said he now expects to be held to account.

“I expect to be held to account by the Dáil, I expect to be questioned, I expect to be put under pressure,” he said on the ‘Wicklow This Week’ programme.

“Put your egos to one side, get in a room and sort this out.”

“I expect to be an accountable Minister for Health.

“We need a political consensus around health, we need all of our politicians to come together. Lets accept that getting the health service right is one of the greatest societal challenges this country faces and let’s get all our politicians to get together and try and come up with a plan.”

He said a long-term plan, longer than the life of any government was needed and he was hoping to develop a 10-year health plan with cross-party support.

The initiative would be based on consultation with all political parties and stakeholders, including frontline staff.

He said he hopes to establish an all-party committee of the Oireachtas to look at problems and funding for health into the future.

Turning to the row over the transfer of Holles Street Hospital to the St. Vincent’s campus he said he would not allow differences over governance stand in the way of the new €150m facility and told both sides to “sort out” their differences.

“My message very clearly to anyone involved in this row that I am reading about in the papers, put your egos to one side, get in a room and sort this out,” Mr Harris told his local radio station East Coast FM. “This cannot be tied up in bureaucracy.

“What I will not do is allow the possibility of delivering a new maternity hospital to be jeopardised by rows over governance and fiefdom.

Simon Harris was born on October 17 October 1986. He was educated in St. David’s Secondary School, Greystones, Co. Wicklow and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism at the Dublin Institute of Technology in Aungier Street.]

His involvement in politics began after he established an Autism support and lobby group in County Wicklow to seek to give a voice to people living with Autism and their families and to articulate their concerns and needs.

In June 2009, he was elected to Wicklow County Council with the highest percentage vote of any County Councillor in Ireland.

At 24, he was the youngest member of the 31st Dail when he was first elected in 2011 to represent the Wicklow constituency.

He served as a member of the Oireachtas cross party group on Mental Health and introduced the Mental Health (Anti Discrimination) Bill 2013 in June 2013. In July 2014, he was appointed Minister of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works, Procurement and International Banking.