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Simon Harris Becomes Ireland’s Youngest Prime Minister

 

Simon Harris became Ireland’s youngest ever prime minister Tuesday, pledging to bring “new energy” to the role but conceding that time is tight before looming crucial election tests.

Harris, 37, replaces Leo Varadkar who abruptly quit last month citing personal and political reasons.

Ireland’s parliament voted 88 to 69 in favour of Harris who was officially installed at a ceremony with President Michael D. Higgins.

The centre-right Fine Gael party — part of a three-party governing coalition — selected Harris as its leader following an uncontested election after Varadkar resigned.

But he faces key elections within months as well as domestic pressure to tackle crises over housing and opposition to migration.

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’s crowning as prime minister, known as the “taoiseach” in Gaelic, 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 in 2011 as a 24-year-old.

At the time he was the youngest MP 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.

Even critics concede he is a talented communicator.

Harris’s prominence on social media, especially TikTok, has made him one of the most visible politicians in Ireland.

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

Roger Rogerson, 59-year-old car rental manager, was more sceptical.

“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 AFP.

The new prime minister faces a formidable to-do list, including tackling housing and homelessness crises, and criticism of government policy on asylum seekers.

When he was selected as party leader last month, Harris told 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 focus on building more homes, pursue a “more planned and sustainable” immigration policy and that he would “fight against the dangers of populism”.

Harris will also urgently seek to galvanise his struggling party, which lags in polls as key elections loom.

Local and European parliament elections are on June 7, while a legislative election must be held by next March.

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

Sinn Fein — the former political wing of the paramilitary IRA — remained outside the governing coalition but still leads in the polls.

AFP

Kayode Oyero

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Kayode Oyero

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