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Simon Harris to become Ireland's prime minister

March 25, 2024

Simon Harris has taken the helm of Ireland's Fine Gael party after Leo Varadkar's surprise resignation. Its left-wing rival, Sinn Fein, has been leading in opinion polls.

Simon Harris claps at Fine Gael event confirming him to be the party's new leader
Simon Harris has been confirmed as the new leader of Ireland's Fine Gael after a party vote in which he ran unopposedImage: Eamon Ward/AP Photo/picture alliance

Simon Harris on Sunday took over Ireland's ruling center-right Fine Gael party, paving the way for his election as prime minister.

He took over from Leo Varadkar, who announced his surprise departure on Wednesday.

Harris ran unopposed in the election for party leadership. He is 37 years old, meaning he will be Ireland's youngest prime minister if elected.

He has no more than a year before new parliamentary elections.

Fine Gael's left-wing rival, Sinn Fein, has been leading in opinion polls over the last few years. The party favors reunification with Northern Ireland.

Since 2020, Fine Gael has governed in coalition with the conservative Fianna Fail, the Greens and a number of independent deputies.

Harris pledges party 'reset,' fight against populism

"This is a moment for Fine Gael to reset," Harris said at a party event in the town of Athlone in central Ireland.

"Under my leadership, Fine Gael stands for supporting businesses, especially small businesses ... Fine Gael stands for supporting the family farm ... Fine Gael stands for law and order, on the side of An Garda Siochána (police), where our streets are safe and crime is never allowed go unchecked."

He said that this was a "moment for Fine Gale to reconnect" with the people.

"I want this party to fight against populism and deliberate polarization," he said.

He said that Fine Gael is a "proudly pro-European party." He condemned Russia's invasion of Ukraine and called for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

Harris served as health minister from 2016 to mid-2020 and is known for helping steer the country's initial response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He later served as justice minister and as minister for higher education and science.

sdi/wd (Reuters, AP)