Ireland: Simon Harris elected new prime minister

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DUBLIN/AFP, Reuters, dpa/ -Simon Harris, at the age of 37, has made history by becoming the youngest Taoiseach, or Prime Minister, of the Republic of Ireland. He was elected to succeed his party colleague, Leo Varadkar.

Harris, who previously served as the health and higher education minister, is recognized for his role in managing Ireland’s initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic. He secured his position with 88 votes from lawmakers, against 69.

As the leader of the Fine Gael party, Harris will proceed to the official residence of the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, to have his appointment ratified.

Varadkar, Harris’ predecessor as both the Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach, resigned unexpectedly last month due to personal and political reasons. His formal resignation to President Higgins on Monday evening set the stage for Harris’ election on Tuesday.

So, who is Simon Harris, Ireland’s new Prime Minister? Harris hails from Greystones, County Wicklow, located on Ireland’s east coast, approximately 30 kilometers south of Dublin. He left university at the age of 20 to serve as a political aide, was elected to parliament at 24, and was appointed to a cabinet position before his 30th birthday.

During the Fine Gael’s annual party conference on Saturday, Harris, a father of two, emphasized his commitment to law and order, support for small businesses, and efforts to reconnect with rural voters.

What challenges lie ahead for Simon Harris in his political journey? Harris assumes leadership of a coalition government that faces an election in less than a year, which could potentially see the left-wing, Irish Republican Sinn Fein, seize power for the first time.

According to recent polls, Fine Gael is leading with just 21% of the vote, ahead of coalition partners Fianna Fail (16%), but trailing behind Sinn Fein (26%).

Harris will confront the same entrenched issues, including concerns over record numbers of asylum seekers and, most notably, a severe shortage of affordable housing.

Recent data revealed that the asking prices for Irish homes increased by 6.5% year-on-year in the first quarter of 2024, marking the fastest growth rate since 2022.

A Sunday opinion poll indicated that housing remains the top concern for Irish voters. Harris has committed to resolving the crisis “once and for all.”

Harris is expected to announce a reshuffle of the Fine Gael members of the cabinet, which will not include the foreign or finance ministries. However, a coalition agreement limits the scope for major new policy initiatives.