World News 25 Mart 2024

Simon Harris set to become youngest ever prime minister of Ireland after being named Fine Gael leader

Simon Harris is set to become the next prime minister of Ireland – following the shock resignation of Leo Varadkar.

Mr Harris, Ireland’s further education minister, was the only candidate to put his name forward in the Fine Gael leadership contest.

The party confirmed he would take over as leader on Sunday.

“Simon Harris is ideally placed to lead this party forward and everybody in this room should get 100% behind him,” minister Simon Coveney said at the announcement.

It paves the way for the 37-year-old to become the country’s youngest premier.

“It’s the absolute honour of my life… to accept the leadership of this great party,” Mr Harris said in his first speech, in which he paid tribute to his predecessor, reiterated his party’s pro-European stance and its support for Ukraine, and called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Simon Harris set to become youngest ever prime minister of Ireland after being named Fine Gael leader
Image:
Simon Harris following the confirmation as the new leader of Fine Gael. Pic: Reuters

He also stressed the need to “cleave to those fundamental values which have served this nation well”.

“Hope. Enterprise. Equality of Opportunity. Integrity. Security,” he said.

“I have been in this party since I was 15 years old, and those values meant and mean everything to me.”

And while he called for a “more planned” and “sustainable” model for immigration – an issue at the heart of destructive riots in Dublin last year – he urged the party to “fight against populism and deliberate polarisation”.

“We must and we will do this with civility, with honesty, with a determination to debate without rancour and personal demonisation,” he added.

Mr Harris will likely be formally elected as taoiseach in the Dail – the Irish parliament’s lower house – in April following the Easter recess.

Simon Harris set to become youngest ever prime minister of Ireland after being named Fine Gael leader
Image:
Simon Harris, embraces his mother Mary after being announced as the new leader of Fine Gael. Pic: Reuters

Simon Harris set to become youngest ever prime minister of Ireland after being named Fine Gael leader
Image:
Leo Varadkar. Pic: PA

It comes after outgoing Fine Gael leader and taoiseach Mr Varadkar unexpectedly announced his resignation on Wednesday.

The 45-year-old said his reasons for stepping down were “both personal and political”.

Who is Simon Harris?

Hailing from Greystones in County Wicklow – a scenic seaside commuter town south of Dublin – Fine Gael’s Mr Harris was elected to Wicklow County Council in 2009 with the highest percentage vote of any councillor.

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‘Reset’ in Irish-British relations?

Just two years later, he won election to the Dail, taking the third seat in the Wicklow constituency. He was 25, and the youngest member of the parliament.

He became a junior minister in 2014 after an unsuccessful bid to become an MEP.

Always considered destined for a rapid rise within Fine Gael, he was elevated to the cabinet at the age of 29 when he was appointed minister for health by the then Taoiseach Enda Kenny in 2016.

Simon Harris set to become youngest ever prime minister of Ireland after being named Fine Gael leader
Image:
Simon Harris was Ireland’s health minister during the coronavrius pandemic. File pic: PA

Read more:
There were signs Varadkar planned to quit
Analysis: US-Irish relations are creaking

The health portfolio has long been considered a poisoned chalice in Irish politics, but an ambitious Mr Harris understood it could also be a springboard to higher office.

As minister for health, he became a leading figure in the seismic 2018 abortion referendum, pushing hard for a yes vote.

He became a figurehead for the Irish government’s efforts to combat COVID-19 during the pandemic, appearing almost daily on the nation’s television screens.

Simon Harris set to become youngest ever prime minister of Ireland after being named Fine Gael leader
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A move from the Department of Health in June 2020 to his current role overseeing third-level education was seen as an effective demotion for Mr Harris, but few doubted his time would come.

A committed family man, Mr Harris married Caoimhe Wade in 2017, and the couple have two young children, Saoirse and Cillian.

He continues to live in Greystones, and considers himself “lucky” to live in Co Wicklow.

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