Simon Harris is on course to be Ireland’s leader after the party election
Simon Harris is on course to be Ireland’s leader after the party election

image source, DAMIEN EAGERS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

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Simon Harris is set to replace Leo Varadkar as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of Ireland

Simon Harris has been confirmed as the new leader of the Irish political party Fine Gael, paving the way for the 37-year-old to become Ireland’s youngest taoiseach (prime minister).

Mr Harris, a minister in the Irish government, was the only candidate vying for the party leadership.

Mr Harris said becoming leader of Fine Gael was “the honor of my life”.

He thanked the party and those who elected him for their trust, adding that he would repay that trust with hard work.

Mr Harris later told members that “this is the time for Fine Gael to reset, the time for Fine Gael to reconnect”.

Mr Harris is not expected to make final decisions on his cabinet until the Dáil (Irish parliament) returns on April 9.

Fine Gael leadership nominations closed at 1pm local time on Sunday.

He was the only candidate for the position when nominations closed.

Mr Harris, Ireland’s minister for further and higher education, was a clear contender for the top job after other ministers seen as potential contenders ruled out.

Ministers Helen McEntee, Paschal Donohoe and Heather Humphreys were among those who backed Mr Harris.

What did Simon Harris say about Sinn Fein?

On Sunday, addressing a party convention after his leadership was confirmed, Mr Harris said “the challenges never go away – they just change”.

“But they can always be met if we adhere to those fundamental values ​​that have served this nation well — hope, initiative, equal opportunity, integrity, security,” he added.

He said those values ​​mean “everything” to him.

“I believe in public service and the power of politics to change things and make people’s lives better,” he said.

With an Irish general election due in March 2025, Mr Harris also hit out at Sinn Féin – the party seen as potentially the biggest electoral threat to Fine Gael.

“Sinn Féin cannot bear to look back at what Fine Gael has achieved since taking our economy off the brink,” he said. “We always seek to denigrate our service in government by denying reality.”

Perhaps the biggest cheer of the speech came after Mr Harris said the party “stands for law and order” and referred to the funeral of convicted police killer Piers Macaulay last week.

Macaulay was jailed for 14 years for the manslaughter of policeman Jerry McCabe in 1996, a crime he committed as a member of the Provisional IRA – during the Northern Ireland conflict Sinn Fein was the political wing of the IRA.

Mr Harris added: “After a week of seeing the tricolor of this republic draped over the coffin of a Guardsman murderer, I say shame on us – let’s get the flag back.”

What did Simon Harris say about Israel and Gaza?

“Fine Gael stands as a party that is not afraid to speak truth to power about the catastrophe we are witnessing in Gaza and to unequivocally express the moral outrage of the Irish people,” he said.

“I reiterate my calls today for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the immediate release of all hostages, an end to the violence in the Middle East and a political process to achieve a two-state solution.”

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Simon Harris hugs his mother Mary, accompanied by his father Bert, after Mr Harris was announced as leader of Fine Gael

Mr Harris also thanked his family and paid tribute to his parents, wife Caoimhe and children Saoirse and Cillian.

“My mother used to tell us that success is about liking what you do.

“My parents gave up so much and worked so hard for us and today I thank them for that. he said.

Before Mr Harris was confirmed as Fine Gael’s new leader, deputy leader Simon Coveney said Mr Harris would bring “new energy, new ideas, new drive and new cohesion” and that he would have the full support of the party , “to give him the maximum chance of success”.

Why was there a leadership contest?

He said he was resigning for “personal and political reasons” and was “no longer the best person for the job”.

Mr Varadkar’s resignation paved the way for a party leadership contest, but as he heads the current coalition government alongside Fianna Fáil and the Green Party in Dublin, his successor is also expected to take over as taoiseach.

Who is Simon Harris?

image source, Getty Images/NurPhoto

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Simon Harris has been a minister in the Irish cabinet for the past eight years

At 37, Mr Harris is about to make history as Ireland’s youngest Taoist – taking the title a year younger than his predecessor in 2017.

He first entered the Dáil (the lower house of the Irish Parliament) more than a decade ago at the age of 24 as a TD (MP) for Wicklow.

Mr Harris quickly rose through the party ranks, landing his first cabinet role as health minister five years later in 2016.

He also led the initial response to the Covid-19 pandemic before being replaced when the new coalition government was formed in 2020.

He has since been Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and briefly held the Justice portfolio.

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