Leo Varadkar turned down an offer from Taoiseach Enda Kenny to remain in the Department of Health, the Irish Independent has learned.
Mr Kenny has told colleagues privately that he asked the leadership frontrunner to continue on as health minister but he refused.
This forced the Taoiseach to offer the job to Simon Harris, who was initially set to take charge of the Department of Social Protection.
The news that Mr Varadkar wanted out of health has been confirmed by senior Government figures, including ministers close to Mr Kenny.
But it comes after Mr Varadkar last week told the first of the Fine Gael leadership hustings that he “had unfinished business in health”.
The comment prompted his rival in the leadership battle, Simon Coveney, to reply: “If I have the privilege of being Taoiseach, I will remember that Leo has unfinished business in health.”
Mr Varadkar was asked yesterday why he turned down the opportunity to remain in health.
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He said he did not wish to comment on a private meeting with the Taoiseach, which took place amid the Cabinet reshuffle on May 6 last year.
“We had a discussion about that when the new Government was formed and, I suppose, the discussion was private, and I wouldn’t like to divulge too much of it,” Mr Varadkar told the Irish Independent.
“But I guess it would be fair to say that I had a particular view what would be required to be done in health. And I still have very strong views on it. But I suppose it was a conversation that is one, perhaps, that is private.”
Last night, a spokesman for Mr Kenny said he would “never comment on a private conversation” with one of his ministers.
Mr Varadkar has already faced accusations from members of the Coveney camp that he is not a team player.
One minister last night accused Mr Varadkar of turning down the offer to remain in health so that he could focus on building his leadership campaign. “Leo said he has ‘unfinished business in health’. Then why didn’t he tell the Taoiseach he wanted to remain there?” said the minister.
Mr Kenny is understood to have been surprised by Mr Varadkar’s refusal to accept the offer of health. During the private conversation, which lasted about 10 minutes, Mr Varadkar is understood to have said that health requires an extra billion euro in its budget. This is equivalent to the sum secured by Mr Harris when he took over.
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has revealed controversial plans to end the practice of private patients receiving preferential treatment in public hospitals.
The Dublin West TD told Fine Gael members in Galway that introducing the ban would cost almost €700m per year.
“Private health insurance should be for private hospitals and private clinics,” Mr Varadkar said. “Hospitals get a lot of money from private health insurers.”
Mr Varadkar said he was promising “leadership from the Taoiseach’s office” on health and said he understood the health service.
The proposal to end queue jumping by private patients in public hospitals has also been backed by the all-party Oireachtas committee on the future of healthcare.
However, a senior Government source last night warned that any such move would have to be done over a number of years, otherwise “it will leave a black hole of almost €700m in the public health system”.
Mr Varadkar has said, however, that he does not agree with proposals by some members of the committee to remove tax relief on health insurance payments.
Fine Gael parliamentary party endorsements for leader
The Fine Gael parliamentary party makes up 65pc of the total electorate.
That makes each of the 73 members’ votes worth 0.9pc of the total ballot.
Of the remaining electorate, 230 party councillors account for 10pc, while the remaining 25pc is rank and file members.
|Richard Bruton -Minister||Simon Harris – Minister|
|Frances Fitzgerald – Minister||Damien English – Minister|
|Michael Ring – Minister||Dara Murphy – Minister|
|Eoghan Murphy – Minister||David Stanton – Minister|
|Sean Kyne – Minister||Marcella Corcoran Kennedy – Minister|
|Joe McHugh – Minister||Kate O’Connell – TD|
|Helen McEntee – Minister||Maria Bailey – TD|
|Charlie Flanagan – Minister||Sean Barrett TD|
|Paul Kehoe -Minister||Hildegard Naughton – TD|
|Patrick O’Donovan – Minister||Peter Fitzpatrick – TD|
|Regina Doherty – Minister||Tim Lombard – Senator|
|Mary Mitchell O’Connor – Minister||Jerry Buttimer – Senator|
|Paschal Donohoe – Minister||Paudie Coffey – Senator|
|Heather Humphreys – Minister||James Reilly – Senator|
|Pat Breen – Minister||Colm Burke – Senator|
|Catherine Byrne – Minister||John O’Mahony – Senator|
|Andrew Doyle – Minister||Paul Coghlan – Senator|
|John Paul Phelan – TD||Gabrielle McFadden – Senator|
|Noel Rock – TD||Deirdre Clune – MEP|
|Tony McLoughlin – TD|
|Alan Farrell – TD|
|Michael D’Arcy – TD|
|Tom Neville – TD|
|Josepha Madigan – TD|
|Pat Deering – TD|
|Jim Daly – TD|
|Brendan Griffin – TD|
|Ciaran Cannon – TD|
|Colm Brophy – TD|
|Peter Burke – TD|
|Fergus O’Dowd – TD|
|John Deasy – TD|
|Joe Carey – TD|
|Neale Richmond – Senator|
|Catherine Noone – Senator|
|Paddy Burke – Senator|
|Martin Conway – Senator|
|Michelle Mulherin – Senator|
|Maura Hopkins – Senator|
|Ray Butler – Senator|
|Frank Feighan – Senator|
|Maria Byrne – Senator|
|Joe O’Reilly – Senator|
|Kieran O’Donnell – Senator|
|Brian Hayes – MEP|
|Enda Kenny – Outgoing Party Leader *||Martin Heydon – Party Chairman *|
|Michael Noonan – Minister||Michael Creed – Minister|
|Bernard Durkan – TD||Sean Kelly – MEP|
|Mairead McGuinness MEP|
* Outgoing leader Enda Kenny and party chairman Martin Heydon will not make an endorsement