Simon Harris Set to Be Youngest Ever Leader of Ireland After Taking Over as Fine Gael Head - 5 minutes read

Simon Harris was confirmed as the new leader of Ireland’s Fine Gael political party on Sunday and is now poised to become the country’s next Taoiseach (Prime Minister).

Fine Gael party confirmed Harris’ leadership following the resignation of party leader and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Wednesday. Harris was the only candidate to put his name forward in nominations. At 37, Harris is now set to be Ireland’s youngest Taoiseach, beating the record set by Varadkar, who was 38 when he assumed the role.

Harris is expected to be installed by the Irish Parliament on April 9. The next election for Taoiseach must be held before March 2025.

Harris in his first speech as party leader paid tribute to his predecessor and pledged his commitment to his country, saying he believes “in the power of politics to make a difference and to make people’s lives better.”

“Thank you for your trust. I want to promise and pledge to you today that I will repay that trust with hard work. With blood, sweat and tears—day in and day out. With responsibility, with humility, and with civility,” he said.

Here’s what you need to know about Ireland’s leader-to-be and his policy objectives. 

Who is Simon Harris?

Harris grew up in the coastal town of Greystones in the county of Wicklow, south of Dublin. In Sunday’s speech, he thanked his parents, who he said “worked hard and raised their children to believe in the rewards of working hard.”

Harris in his speech said he has been involved with the Fine Gael party since he was 15 years old and mentioned his activism on behalf of his younger brother, Adam, who was diagnosed with autism. When he was 15, he gave an interview to Irish public broadcaster RTÉ about an autism awareness charity he had founded called Triple A Alliance.

Harris was elected as a member of Dáil, the lower house of Irish parliament, at the age of 24, representing Wicklow. He became a minister of state in 2014, with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works (OPW). In 2016, he was picked as the country’s youngest-ever health minister, a cabinet member, at the age of 29, RTÉ reported.

In that position, he oversaw Ireland’s vote to overturn its abortion ban. He also faced pressure for his handling of Ireland’s cervical cancer screening scandal, which found more women diagnosed with cancer should have received earlier intervention.

Harris also ran the response to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, although he was replaced as health minister under a new government in 2020.

Harris was temporarily minister for justice in late 2022. Most recently, he’s been minister for further and higher education, research, innovation, and science. 

He is married to cardiac nurse Caoimhe Wade, and has two children, whom he thanked in his speech: “I appreciate that I’m a very lucky man in every way.”

What are Simon Harris’ policy objectives?

Harris outlined a slew of national and international priorities in Sunday’s speech. 

He said that under his leadership, Fine Gael stands for supporting small businesses, “making work pay, for making sure we value work and we value people who go to work,” and furthering educational pathways. He also pledged to support farmers and regional development in rural Ireland.  

Fine Gael’s new leader stressed the party stands “for law and order... for streets that are safe and crime that is never allowed to go unchecked.” He criticized that an Irish flag was draped over the coffin of a man convicted of murdering a member of the police in 1996 at his funeral this week, saying to applause from the room: “Take our flag back!”

Harris addressed immigration, a debate that spilled into the open in November when anti-immigrant sentiment fueled a night of riots in Dublin. He said the country must “move on from the emergency response to the migration crisis to a more planned and more sustainable model and to a fair and firm system when it comes to migration in this country.”

Harris also added to his previous criticism and joined his predecessor in being one of the most outspoken Western leaders calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“This party has and under my leadership will remain a party that is unafraid to speak the truth to power about the humanitarian catastrophe we are witnessing in Gaza and to voice in no uncertain terms, the moral outrage of the Irish people,” Harris said. “I repeat my calls today for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the immediate, unconditional release of all hostages, an end to violence in the Middle East, and a political process to bring about a two-state solution. Let Ireland be a force on the globe for that.”  

Harris promised to fight against the dangers of populism and polarization, saying he would act decisively as well as “listen carefully about what you have to say about the values I’ve outlined.” 

“I love Ireland. We all love Ireland. Let's work every moment of every day to keep it safe and to deliver for people,” he said.

Source: Time

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