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The meeting between Simon Harris and Simon Coveney last week was pivotal in the Enterprise Minister’s decision to resign from his Cabinet post

Mr Coveney dramatically announced yesterday that he was stepping down from Cabinet and his ministerial portfolio was up for grabs.

The two men met at government buildings last Wednesday after the Cabinet meeting.

Fine Gael colleagues believe this conversation played a significant role in Mr Coveney’s decision to leave office.

Several party ministers, TDs and senators speak privately to the Irish Independentviewed the meeting as the point at which Mr Harris “lowered the ax on Mr Coveney’s Cabinet career”.

However, sources close to the two ministers denied this claim, saying the two men had spoken to each other several times in recent weeks.

The Taoiseach-designate met with all Fine Gael Cabinet ministers last week and is said to have told everyone that he had a difficult task ahead of him in the reshuffle and that there were two vacancies – his own position in further and higher education as well that of Josepha Madigan position in the Ministry of Education.

Mr Harris and Mr Coveney met on the same day it emerged that Mr Coveney’s media adviser, former Newstalk broadcaster Chris Donoghue, would be working for Mr Harris’ team as a government press secretary.

Simon Harris in profile

Ministers, TDs and Senators all commented on how quickly and efficiently Mr Harris is carrying out his duties as he prepares to take office as Taoiseach.

Although Mr Coveney did not publicly support Mr Harris in his leadership role, he is understood to have told Mr Harris he supported him when Leo Varadkar announced his resignation.

However, some in Fine Gael pointed out that Mr Harris supported Mr Coveney’s leadership campaign in 2017 even when it became clear it would not be successful.

Mr Coveney is now the last remaining member of the 2011 Cabinet and, alongside Mr Varadkar, one of Fine Gael’s longest-serving Cabinet ministers.

“I don’t know whether he would ask me to be part of this new team in Cabinet or not,” the Enterprise Minister told RTÉ Today with Claire Byrne.

“I know he’s considered that.”

He said Fine Gael needed a “renewal” and the party needed to “refresh” itself as it hopes to get into government for a fourth time.

He said the Cabinet reshuffle would now be “easier” for the new Taoiseach.

Mr Coveney said he would decide over the summer whether to stand again as a TD in Cork. He said he had been “so focused and busy” with his work that he hadn’t thought about it yet.

However, his party colleagues do not expect him to run again.

It also turned out that Irish Examiner Political correspondent Ciara Phelan would join Mr Harris’ team as deputy government press secretary.

Mr Harris paid tribute to Mr Coveney, saying he was a “key figure” in the party.

Mr Harris’s advisers Sarah Bardon and Joanne Lonergan, who previously worked with the minister at the Department of Health, will be his co-chiefs of staff.

Simon Coveney in profile

Meanwhile, Social Protection Minister Heather Humphreys will miss the Fine Gael ard fheis in Galway this weekend.

Instead, the minister will attend her daughter’s wedding in Monaghan and is on leave this week.

A spokesman for Ms Humphreys said she had previously informed Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that she would miss the Ard Fheis in Galway because her daughter’s wedding anniversary was in the diary.

“She told him months ago that the wedding date did not coincide with the Ard Fheis,” a spokesman said, adding that Mr Varadkar had been completely understanding and very gracious in the matter.

Meanwhile, Mr Harris met with a number of independent TDs ahead of next week’s Dáil vote in which he will become Taoiseach.

Independent Galway East TD Seán Canney predicted “a move to the right” last night after an hour-and-a-half meeting with Mr Harris.

But he said he was “still undecided” about whether to support the Fine Gael leader in the Taoiseach election.

Mr Harris also spoke yesterday to Sligo-Leitrim independent Marc MacSharry, the late Fianna Fáil, who had already signaled his support.

Today and over the next few days Mr Harris would like to speak to TDs Noel Grealish, Cathal Berry and Denis Naughten.

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