Harris questions colleague's comedy credentials

Health Minister says "telling funny jokes on a Sunday afternoon is clearly not" one of Charlie Flanagan's "many fine attributes"

Harris questions colleague's comedy credentials

Simon Harris. Photo: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Simon Harris has suggested "telling funny jokes on a Sunday afternoon" is not one of his Cabinet colleague Charlie Flanagan's "many, many fine attributes".

It comes after leaks of WhatsApp messages from within Fine Gael appeared to suggest the Health Minister was being encouraged to enter the expected leadership race.

Minister Flanagan posted a message in the parliamentary party group on Sunday morning saying: "[Simon Harris] hasn't announced yet but Frances is encouraging him. He wants out of Health."

Minister Flanagan later described his comments as "tongue in cheek".

Speaking to reporters Midlands 103 in Mullingar this morning, Simon Harris said: "Well my colleague Charlie Flanagan has many, many fine attributes, he's a great colleague of mine - but telling funny jokes on a Sunday afternoon is clearly not one of them.

"I'm absolutely honoured to hold this position. People can say what they like about me, but I would hope even my harshest critics would acknowledge I'm doing everything I can in this role."

He added: "Charlie's a great colleague of mine, I think he knows I didn't find his joke terrible funny yesterday. In fairness to Charlie, he's clarified that as well."

On the speculation about his own involvement in any leadership contest, the Health Minister explained: "[Enda Kenny] has my full confidence and support. If and when a vacancy arises in the Fine Gael party, I'll consider my options at that stage - as I'm sure many other colleagues will also."

Meanwhile, Charlie Flanagan says his WhatsApp comments about the Health Minister were just "Sunday afternoon banter".

Minister Flanagan said he regrets the comments and that Simon Harris is a 'great' health minister.

"It was a joke, it should be taken as that," he explained. "It was jovial Sunday afternoon banter. I regret that it has been taken so seriously."