Simon Harris becomes Ireland’s youngest-ever prime minister | Politics News

Ireland’s parliament has elected Simon Harris as the country’s new and youngest-ever prime minister, to succeed Leo Varadkar following his surprising resignation last month.

On Tuesday, parliament members erupted in cheers as Harris’s nomination was confirmed 88-69, after securing support from some independent lawmakers, as well as his coalition partners Fianna Fail and Green Party.

The 37-year-old former health and higher education minister, best known for helping steer Ireland’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic, was elected unopposed as the new leader of the centre-right Fine Gael party last month, days after Varadkar’s shock exit.

“I do accept this nomination to serve as taoiseach [prime minister],” Harris said. “I commit to doing everything that I can to honour the trust that you have placed in me.”

Acknowledging his new government’s coalition partners who supported his candidacy, Harris said that he intends to lead “in the spirit of unity and collaboration and mutual respect”.

Pledging to re-energise and “reset” his party, Harris told a weekend conference of its members that he plans to steer it back towards “core values” like promoting business, farming, and law and order.

Harris’s election as prime minister caps a meteoric political rise. He joined the youth branch of Fine Gael at the age of 16 and quickly rose through its ranks.

A county councillor at the age of 22, he was elected to parliament as a 24-year-old in 2011. At the time he was the youngest member of parliament and was nicknamed “Baby of the Dail” (Irish parliament).

He was appointed health minister in 2016 aged just 29 and higher education minister in 2020.

Reshuffle

As Ireland’s new leader, Harris faces a formidable to-do list, including tackling the housing and homelessness crises, and criticism of government policy on asylum seekers.

One of his first jobs will be to choose his cabinet of ministers. He is due to announce a reshuffle of his Fine Gael team – which makes up seven of the 18 seats in the cabinet – on Tuesday.

Harris said last week that some contenders will be “rightly delighted”, while others will “feel a sense of personal disappointment”.

“I will do my very best to use the best judgement that I have in the mandate I’ve been given by this party to put together the best cabinet,” he added.

When he was selected last month, Harris told party’s members that he would repay their faith with “hard work, with blood, sweat and tears, day in and day out, with responsibility, with humility and with civility”.

He also said he would pursue a “more planned and sustainable” immigration policy, following increased tension over the issue, and that he would “fight against the dangers of populism”.

With a reputation for slick communication skills, Harris will also urgently seek to galvanise his struggling party, which lags in polls as key elections loom.

Ireland votes in local and European parliament polls on June 7, while the next general election must be held by March 2025.

Fine Gael slumped to third place at the last general election in 2020, well behind left-wing, nationalist Sinn Fein, which secured the largest share of the vote.

In the last three years, polls have put Sinn Fein, which backs unification with Northern Ireland, a British province, as the preferred choice to lead the next government.

Before Harris, Varadkar was the country’s youngest-ever leader when first elected at age 38, as well as Ireland’s first openly gay prime minister. His mother is Irish and his father is Indian, which also made Varadkar Ireland’s first biracial taoiseach.

In March, Varadkar, 45, said it was the right time for him to step aside. “My reasons for stepping down now are personal and political, but mainly political,” he said without elaborating.


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