Simon Harris Becomes Ireland’s Youngest Prime Minister

Simon Harris became Ireland’s youngest prime minister on Tuesday, promising to bring “new energy” to the post while acknowledging that time is running out ahead of important electoral tests.

Harris, 37, succeeds Leo Varadkar, who resigned abruptly last month for personal and political reasons.

The Irish parliament voted 88 to 69 in favor of Harris, who was officially inaugurated at a ceremony with President Michael D. Higgins.

Following Varadkar’s resignation, the centre-right Fine Gael party, which is part of a three-party governing coalition, chose Harris as leader in an uncontested election.

However, he faces important elections in the coming months, as well as internal pressure to address housing difficulties and anti-migrant sentiment.

On accepting the nomination, Harris told parliament: “This is very much a partnership government and I intend to lead us in the spirit of unity, collaboration and mutual respect,” he said, watched by his wife and two children.

“I want to bring new ideas and new energy and, I hope, a new empathy to public life. Time is certainly short, and there’s a lot to do,” Harris added.

Varadkar quit last month saying that at the age of 45 he no longer felt he was the “best person” to lead the country. Varadkar, the youngest prime minister when first elected in 2017, said Tuesday said he “always knew” Harris would fill the top job.

“This has perhaps come a little bit sooner than he might have planned or expected. But I know he will rise to the occasion,” Varadkar said.

“He has the empathy, energy, experience, campaigning skills and political antenna to take us forward.”

Meteoric Rise

Harris’ appointment as prime minister, called as the “taoiseach” in Gaelic, completes a spectacular political ascension.

He joined Fine Gael’s youth branch at 16 and soon advanced through the ranks.

He was elected to parliament as a 24-year-old in 2011, after serving as a county councillor when he was 22.

He was the youngest MP at the time, earning the nickname “Baby of the Dail” (Irish Parliament).

He was appointed as health minister in 2016 at the age of 29, and higher education minister in 2020.

Even skeptics admit he is an excellent communicator.

Harris’s popularity on social media, particularly TikTok, has made him one of Ireland’s most prominent politicians.

“He is a really young guy, very enthusiastic, and I think he will be really good for the country,” said Nolene Smith, a 52-year-old university lecturer, to AFP.

Roger Rogerson, the 59-year-old automobile rental manager, was more skeptical.

“It came about by the outgoing Taoiseach having no more influence or not being able to make any significant changes in the remainder of the term,” he told the Irish Times.

The next prime minister confronts a daunting task list, which includes addressing the housing and homelessness crises, as well as criticism of government policy toward asylum seekers.

When Harris was chosen as party leader last month, he promised to reward their faith with “hard work, with blood, sweat, and tears, day in and day out, with responsibility, with humility, and with civility”.

He also stated that he will prioritize home construction, pursue a “more planned and sustainable” immigration strategy, and “fight against the dangers of populism”.

Harris will also quickly strive to galvanize his flagging party, which is trailing in surveys as crucial elections approach.

Local and European parliament elections will take place on June 7, and a legislative election must be held by March of following year.

Fine Gael finished third in the previous general election in 2020, far behind the left-wing, nationalist Sinn Fein, who received the most votes.

Sinn Fein, the erstwhile political wing of the militant IRA, remains outside the ruling coalition but continues to lead in surveys.

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