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Who is Simon Harris? 37-year-old emerges as sole candidate to be Ireland PM – National

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Ireland’s Simon Harris, a 37-year-old politician best known for helping steer the country’s response to COVID-19, entered the contest to become its prime minister on Thursday following Leo Varadkar’s shock exit.

Harris, currently the only candidate in the race, will become Ireland’s youngest prime minister if he succeeds. He will also have no more than a year to save his party from defeat at a general election that could see the nationalist Sinn Fein party replace it as the lead party in government.

Varadkar announced his surprise departure on Wednesday, citing personal and political reasons, prompting an internal contest within the governing Fine Gael party to replace him ahead of parliamentary elections due by early 2025.


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Harris, currently Ireland’s minister for further and higher education, was health minister from 2016 until mid-2020.

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A graduate of the youth arm of Fine Gael and a lifelong politician, he has received support publicly from many in the parliamentary party.


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“I am overwhelmed, honored, a little taken aback, and extremely grateful for the level of support that I’ve received today from all strands of our party,” Harris told RTE television as he announced his candidacy.

“I think any leadership change always provides a moment of renewal and a moment to reconnect. It provides an opportunity for fresh energy and for new ideas.”

Harris is one of Ireland’s most visible government ministers, with 92,000 followers on TikTok and 1.8 million likes for videos that occasionally dip into bizarrely awkward territory. He left college before completing his undergraduate degree and had settled on a career in politics only a few years after he was old enough to vote.

Any rival candidate would still have until Monday to enter the race, but others seen as possible contenders, including Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney, and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe have ruled themselves out.

‘BETTER CAMPAIGNER’

Fine Gael governs as part of a coalition with Fianna Fail and the Green Party under a novel rotation agreement between the historic center-right rivals, who emerged from opposing sides of Ireland’s 1920s civil war.

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Polls suggest the current coalition, which was formed in 2020, stands a chance of being re-elected, but Sinn Fein have a significant lead over both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.


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Sinn Fein, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army, is already the biggest party in Northern Ireland’s government. To become the lead party in government on both sides of the Irish border would be a major milestone in its quest for a united Ireland.

The party, once shunned by the political establishment, has its strongest support among young adults – a cohort of newer voters that are largely unconcerned by nationalist politics and instead focused on the country’s acute housing crisis and struggling health service.

The best Harris can hope for is to limit the damage, said Eoin O’Malley, an associate professor in political science at Dublin City University.

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“Harris has more energy and so will be a better campaigner. He’s also a little more assertive, and will bring the fight to challenge the sense that Sinn Fein is awaiting coronation.

“But it’ll be hard to make significant change to policy that delivers anything.”

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