Simon Harris Set To Become Ireland PM After Appointed Party Leader

Simon Harris is expected to become Ireland’s next prime minister after the ruling Fine Gael party elected him as its leader on Sunday, following an uncontested vote.

The 37-year-old described becoming party leader as the “absolute honour of my life,” and his appointment is expected to be confirmed when the Irish parliament returns from recess early next month.

He will succeed Leo Varadkar, who announced his retirement on Wednesday in what experts described as a “political earthquake” for the EU member.

“After seven years in office, I am no longer the best person for that job,” said Varadkar, 45.

“My reasons for stepping down now are personal and political, but mainly political,” he added, without elaborating.

Within hours, Harris had received support for a leadership campaign from the vast majority of Fine Gael party colleagues, causing his possible opponents to rule themselves out.

With nominations closed at 1300 GMT on Sunday and no competitors emerging, party official Willie Geraght declared Harris the winner hours later at a convention in Athlone, west of Dublin.

Deputy party leader Simon Coveney described the incoming leader and prime minister-in-waiting as a “really charismatic” politician who was “ideally placed” to turn around his party’s fortunes.

Following his coronation, Harris promised the members of the center-right party that he would repay their faith with “hard work, with blood, sweat, and tears, day in and day out with responsibility, humility, and civility.”

In laying out his aims, Harris stressed that Fine Gael “stands for law and order” and told members he intended to “take our flag back” from nationalists, to loud cheers.

Following rising tension over the topic, he also stated that he will seek a “more planned and sustainable” immigration strategy, as well as “fight against the dangers of populism”.

On the international stage, he demanded an immediate cease-fire in Gaza and criticized Russia’s “horrific illegal invasion of Ukraine”.

Formidable To-Do List

With Fine Gael and its government coalition allies, centre-right Fianna Fail and the Green Party, having a majority in the Dail (Irish parliament), Harris will be formally elected as premier on April 9.

Harris will be Ireland’s youngest ever “taoiseach” (pronounced “tee-shock” — a Gaelic word for “chieftain” or “leader”), succeeding Varadkar, who was 38 when he took the job in 2017.

Harris’ remarkable rise to the position of Taoiseach caps a dizzying political career.

Born in 1986, he grew up in a small town near Dublin, where he got his first taste of politics while advocating for disability services for his autistic brother.

He joined Fine Gael’s youth branch at the age of 16, was elected to parliament as a 24-year-old in 2011, and was appointed health minister in 2016, at the age of 29.

“In many ways, my career has been a bit odd… life came at me a lot faster than I expected it to,” he told Hot Press magazine in a 2022 interview.

“He has huge energy and huge ambition,” a Fine Gael party colleague told the Irish Times newspaper this week.

The incoming Taoiseach will confront a daunting task list, including addressing the housing and homelessness issues amid growing criticism of the government’s asylum seeker policy.

Harris, who is known for his slick marketing and social media talents, will also urgently strive to galvanize his ailing party, which currently ranks third in surveys as important elections approach.

Ireland will vote in both local and European parliament elections on June 7, and the next general election must be conducted by March 2025.

Fine Gael finished third in the last general election in 2020, far behind the main party, the leftist-nationalist Sinn Fein – the erstwhile political arm of the militant IRA — which continues to lead in surveys.

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