Simon Harris (politician)

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Simon Harris

Simon Harris (official portrait) 2020.jpg
Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science
Assumed office
27 June 2020
TaoiseachMicheál Martin
Preceded byOffice established
Minister for Health
In office
6 May 2016 – 27 June 2020
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Leo Varadkar
Preceded byLeo Varadkar
Succeeded byStephen Donnelly
Minister of State at the Department of Finance
In office
15 July 2014 – 6 May 2016
TaoiseachEnda Kenny
Preceded byBrian Hayes
Succeeded byEoghan Murphy
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
February 2011
Personal details
Born (1986-12-17) 17 December 1986 (age 33)
Greystones, County Wicklow, Ireland
Political partyFine Gael
Spouse(s)Caoimhe Wade (m. 2017)

Simon Harris (born 17 December 1986) is an Irish Fine Gael politician who has served as Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science in the Government of Ireland since June 2020. He previously served as Minister for Health from 2016 to 2020 and Minister of State at the Department of Finance from 2014 to 2016. He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Wicklow constituency since 2011.[1][2][3]

After an initial period on the backbenches as the Baby of the Dáil, Harris was promoted to the position of Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Public Procurement and International Banking in 2014.

Following the formation of a Fine Gael minority government in May 2016, Harris was appointed to the cabinet as Minister for Health.[4] Following the formation of the 33rd Dáil in June 2020, Harris was appointed as Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.[5]

Early life[edit]

Harris was born in Greystones, County Wicklow, in 1986. He is the eldest of three children born to Bart and Mary Harris.[6][7] A great-uncle of his was a Councillor in Dún Laoghaire.[8] Harris was educated at St. David's Secondary School, in Greystones, and first became involved in local politics as a fifteen-year-old when he set up the North Wicklow Triple A Alliance to help the families of children with autism spectrum disorders and attention deficit disorder. As a Junior Certificate student, he lobbied politicians to get better facilities to allow children with such disabilities to be integrated into mainstream education.[9] He initially studied Journalism and French, at the Dublin Institute of Technology, before dropping out of his course to pursue politics full-time.[10]

Early political career[edit]

Harris began working as an assistant to his future cabinet colleague Frances Fitzgerald in 2008, when she was a member of Seanad Éireann.

In 2009, Harris was elected to Wicklow County Council with the highest percentage vote of any County Councillor in Ireland. He was simultaneously elected to Greystones Town Council.[3]

As a Councillor, he served as Chairperson of the County Wicklow Joint Policing Committee and Chairperson of the HSE Regional Health Forum. He was a member of Wicklow County Council's Housing Strategic Policy Committee and Wicklow Vocational Educational Committee.

Harris was elected to Dáil Éireann in 2011, taking the third seat in the Wicklow constituency.[11] As the youngest deputy in the 31st Dáil, he was selected by Fine Gael to nominate Enda Kenny for Taoiseach, making his maiden speech.

In spite of being a first-time backbench TD, Harris served as a member of the high-profile Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure, and Reform.[12][13] He was also a member of the Oireachtas cross-party group on Mental Health, and introduced the Mental Health (Anti-Discrimination) Bill 2013, in June 2013.

Harris ran unsuccessfully as a Fine Gael candidate in the South constituency for the 2014 European Parliament election.

In government[edit]

Harris at the National Ploughing Championships in 2019

Minister of State[edit]

Harris was appointed to the top junior ministerial position, as Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Public Procurement, and International Banking, on 15 July 2014.[14]

During a period of intense flooding throughout the country during the winter of 2015 and 2016, Harris was forced to deny accusations that the government had left €13m in the budget for flood relief works in 2015, unspent while he had also secured funding for flood defences in his own constituency.[15]

Minister for Health[edit]

Harris was appointed to the cabinet, on 6 May 2016, when he became Minister for Health. Some of the immediate problems facing him in his new post included over-crowding in emergency departments and long waiting lists, as well as soaring demands and huge cost overruns.

In his first year in the job, Harris faced the possibility of 30,000 health workers and 40,000 nurses going on strike.[16]

These developments occurred the same week that the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation announced that there had been a record 612 patients admitted for care on trolleys in hospitals around the country on the morning on 3 January 2017.[17] The planned strikes were later called off.

In 2016, Harris also contributed to the "A Healthy Weight for Ireland – Obesity Policy and Action Plan 2016 - 2025". A policy outlining "the Government's desire to assist its people to achieve better health, and in particular to reduce the levels of overweight and obesity". Harris claims that "the approach taken in developing this policy was based on the Government framework for improved health and wellbeing of Ireland".

In 2017, Harris was accused of "practising hypocrisy" over his stance on the Sisters of Charity's controversial ownership of the National Maternity Hospital.[18] The controversy saw the resignations of Dr. Peter Boylan and Prof. Chris Fitzpatrick, from the board of the hospital.[19][20] The Religious Sisters of Charity later relinquished ownership of three hospitals: St. Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin, St. Vincent's Private, and St. Michael's.

Harris supported the legalisation of abortion in Ireland, and introduced the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 into Dáil Éireann on 27 September 2018.

On 26 April 2018, during his tenure as Minister for Health, the HSE confirmed that 206 women developed cervical cancer after having a screening test which was subsequently deemed to be potentially inaccurate on lookback, once a woman presented with a confirmed diagnosis of Cervical Cancer and given the known limitations of screening using smear technology.[21] In the resulting scandal, Harris was criticised for his handling of the matter on multiple occasions.[22][23][24][25][26]

On 20 February 2019, Simon Harris survived a motion of no-confidence in his duties as Minister for Health, over his handling of the new National Children's Hospital rising costs (over €2 billion[27][28]). The motion was voted down by 58 votes to 53 with 37 abstentions.[29][30][31]

Harris introduced the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, emergency legislation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was enacted on 20 March 2020.[32]

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science[edit]

Harris was appointed as Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on 27 June 2020, leading a new department in the government led by Micheál Martin.[33]

Personal life[edit]

Harris suffers from Crohn's disease.[34] In 2017, he married Caoimhe Wade, a cardiac nurse.[35] They have 1 daughter.[36]


  1. ^ "Simon Harris". Oireachtas Members Database. Retrieved 20 October 2011.
  2. ^ Collins, Stephen (2011). Nealon's Guide to the 31st Dáil and 24th Seanad. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan. p. 185. ISBN 9780717150595.
  3. ^ a b "Simon Harris". Retrieved 20 October 2011.
  4. ^ "Frances Fitzgerald is Tánaiste in new Cabinet". RTÉ News. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  5. ^ "Simon Harris Becomes Minister for Higher Education, Innovation and Research". 27 June 2020. Retrieved 28 June 2020.
  6. ^ "Siblings celebrate in style". Bray People. 25 October 2007. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  7. ^ "Harris celebrates his 30th birthday". Bray People. 22 October 2016. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  8. ^ Cullen, Paul (17 May 2016). "Simon Harris as Minister for Health: the challenge awaits". Irish Times. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  9. ^ Anderson, Nicola (25 February 2017). "The Icarus minister: How Simon Harris flew too high too soon". Irish Independent. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  10. ^ "Simon Harris as Minister for Health: the challenge awaits". Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  11. ^ "Meet your 76 new TDs". RTÉ News. 9 March 2011.
  12. ^ "Public Accounts Committee – Membership". Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  13. ^ "Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform – Membership". Houses of the Oireachtas. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  14. ^ "Simon Harris among new Ministers of State". RTÉ News. 15 July 2014.
  15. ^ "Cold snap to deepen weather misery as flood costs top €60m". Irish Independent. 5 January 2016. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  16. ^ Ó Cionnaith, Fiachra (30 December 2016). "Health minister Simon Harris criticises Siptu strike plans". Irish Examiner. Retrieved 15 June 2017.
  17. ^ "Hospital overcrowding record as 612 patients now on trolleys nationwide – INMO". Irish Independent. 3 January 2017. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  18. ^ "Simon Harris accused of 'hypocrisy' for backing Sisters given previous stance". Irish Independent. 21 April 2017. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  19. ^ "Obstetrician Peter Boylan resigns in dispute over National Maternity Hospital". Irish Independent. 27 April 2017. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  20. ^ "Senior doctor quits project board in support of Peter Boylan". Irish Independent. 28 April 2017. Retrieved 13 May 2017.
  21. ^ "Smear test scandal: 206 women develop cancer after all-clear". Irish Independent. 27 April 2018. Retrieved 12 May 2018.
  22. ^ "Martin accuses Harris of 'dumping' on CervicalCheck team". Irish Times. 20 February 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  23. ^ "Former CervicalCheck boss says Harris was warned that offering extra smear tests could cause delays". The Journal. 3 April 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  24. ^ "Health Minister criticised for describing 'good news' in relation to CervicalCheck scandal". Irish Examiner. 24 July 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  25. ^ "Simon Harris Under Renewed Pressure Over CervicalCheck Scandal". East Coast FM. 5 December 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  26. ^ "CervicalCheck scandal: Harris denies 'lack of empathy' for women affected board". Irish Times. 6 December 2019. Retrieved 2 January 2020.
  27. ^ Flanagan, Pat; Quinn, Trevor (1 February 2019). "Massive €2bn overspend on National Children's Hospital could have been avoided". irishmirror. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  28. ^ Cullen, Paul. "National Children's Hospital set to be world's most expensive medical facility". The Irish Times. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  29. ^ Regan, Mary (20 February 2019). "Minister for Health survives no-confidence vote". Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  30. ^ "Harris survives vote after Dáil erupts in mudslinging contest". Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  31. ^ Thursday; February 21; Am, 2019-06:30 (21 February 2019). "Government put on 'notice to quit' as Harris narrowly survives no-confidence vote". Retrieved 21 February 2019.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  32. ^ "Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Bill 2020: Second Stage – Dáil Éireann (33rd Dáil) – Thursday, 19 March 2020". Oireachtas. Retrieved 27 March 2020.
  33. ^ "Statement by the Taoiseach, Michéal Martin TD, Announcement of Government". Government of Ireland. 27 June 2020. Retrieved 27 June 2020.
  34. ^ O'Regan, Eilish (20 September 2016). "Crohn's sufferer Simon Harris hails camera that can be swallowed". Irish Independent. Retrieved 3 January 2017.
  35. ^ "Minister for Health Simon Harris marries cardiac nurse". Raidió Teilifís Éireann. 22 July 2017. Retrieved 5 July 2020.
  36. ^ O'Keeffe, Rebecca. "Simon Harris has chosen a beautiful Irish name for his newborn daughter". Retrieved 5 July 2020.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Dick Roche
(Fianna Fáil)
Fine Gael Teachta Dála for Wicklow
Political offices
Preceded by
Brian Hayes
Minister of State for the Office of Public Works, Public Procurement and International Banking
Succeeded by
Eoghan Murphy
Preceded by
Leo Varadkar
Minister for Health
Succeeded by
Stephen Donnelly
New office Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Lucinda Creighton
Baby of the Dáil
Succeeded by
Jack Chambers