Irish PM-in-waiting Harris set to win party leadership

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Irish PM-in-waiting Harris set to win party leadership

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - File photo of Ireland’s Minister for Justice Simon Harris posing for a photograph as he arrives for the first informal ministerial meeting in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 26, 2023. — AFP pic

ATHLONE, Ireland, March 24 — Irish prime minister-in-waiting Simon Harris’ path to the top job is expected to be cleared today with his almost certain election as leader of governing party Fine Gael in Athlone.

The 37-year-old stands uncontested in a party leadership election that follows the shock resignation of predecessor Leo Varadkar on Wednesday, a move pundits described as a “political earthquake” in the EU member.

“After seven years in office, I am no longer the best person for that job,” said Varadkar, 45.

“My reasons for stepping down now are personal and political, but mainly political,” he added, without elaborating.

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Within hours, Harris had secured endorsements for a leadership bid from a majority of Fine Gael party colleagues, prompting his potential rivals to rule themselves out.

With nominations closing at 1300 GMT Sunday and no challengers likely to emerge, a party official is expected to declare Harris as winner later today at a convention in Athlone, west of Dublin.

Harris is then slated to address the convention as new party leader, and de facto prime minister-in-waiting.

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With Fine Gael and its government coalition partners Fianna Fail (centre-right) and the Green Party forming a majority in the Dail (Irish parliament), Harris will then be formally elected as premier on April 9 when the Dail returns from recess.

Harris will become Ireland’s youngest ever “taoiseach” (pronounced “tee-shock” — a Gaelic word for “chieftain” or “leader”) beating Varadkar who was 38 when he took the role in 2017.

File photo of Ireland's Minister of State for Finance Simon Harris in front of Leinster House, where the Irish parliament is located, in Dublin March 5, 2015. - Reuters pic

File photo of Ireland's Minister of State for Finance Simon Harris in front of Leinster House, where the Irish parliament is located, in Dublin March 5, 2015. - Reuters pic

Formidable to-do list

Harris’ dramatic procession to the job of taoiseach crowns a meteoric political career.

Born in 1986, he grew up in a small town near Dublin where he got a first taste for politics when campaigning for disability services for his autistic brother.

He entered the youth branch of Fine Gael at the age of 16, was elected to parliament as a 24-year-old in 2011 and appointed health minister in 2016 aged just 29.

“In many ways, my career has been a bit odd.....life came at me a lot faster than I expected it to,” he told Hot Press magazine in a 2022 interview.

“He has huge energy and huge ambition,” a Fine Gael party colleague told the Irish Times newspaper this week.

The new taoiseach will face a formidable to-do list including tackling housing and homelessness crises amid intensifying criticism of government policy on asylum seekers.

With a reputation for slick communication and social media skills, Harris will also urgently seek to galvanise his struggling party which lags third in polls as key elections loom.

Ireland votes in both local and European parliament ballots on June 7, while the next general election must be held by March 2025.

Fine Gael slumped to third place at the last general election in 2020, well behind the largest party, the leftist-nationalist Sinn Fein — former political wing of the paramilitary IRA — who still lead in polls. — AFP

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