Simon Harris set to become Ireland's youngest prime minister following Leo Varadkar's surprise step down

24 March 2024, 17:02

Simon Harris set to become Ireland's youngest prime minister following Leo Varadkar's surprise step down
Simon Harris set to become Ireland's youngest prime minister following Leo Varadkar's surprise step down. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Ireland is set to get its youngest ever prime minister after Simon Harris secured his party's leadership after Leo Varadkar's surprise step down last week.

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Mr Harris, who has for the past few years served as further and higher education minister, was the only candidate to put his name forward for the leadership by his party Fine Gael.

The 37-year-old addressed the public Sunday afternoon, where he said he would repay the trust put in him with hard work.

Speaking in Athlone, he said: "With blood, sweat and tears - day in and day out. With responsibility, with humility and with civility."

He will formally be elected as taoiseach - what Ireland calls its prime minister - in April when the Irish parliament returns from its Easter break.

Simon Harris speaking to the media during a press conference at the City North Hotel, Co Meath, Friday
Simon Harris speaking to the media during a press conference at the City North Hotel, Co Meath, Friday. Picture: Alamy

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Fine Gael deputy leader Simon Coveney said Sunday that Simon Harris had secured the party leadership in a comprehensive way after nominations closed.

"I've already been speaking to Simon over the last few days," he said. "I think he's done a really good job in securing the leadership in as comprehensive a way as he has."

Justice Minister Helen McEntee added: "It is the prerogative of any taoiseach of the day to decide what their cabinet is or make any changes that they want.

"I have a lot of work still to do in justice but that is very much a decision for the taoiseach."

There had previously been speculation that Mr Coveney himself would put his name forward for the leadership. The deputy leader stood against Mr Varadkar in 2017 where he was supported by Mr Harris.

Mr Coveney confirmed that he would be running again as a candidate in the next general election. Appearing in Athlone, flanked by party ministers, Mr Coveney said "yes, I am" when asked to clarify if he run again.

Mr Coveney also said it was a matter for the incoming taoiseach Simon Harris to decide whether current ministers stayed in their posts.

He said: "This is a decision for Simon. He is going to have a lot on his mind over the next few weeks. He needs to be given the space to do that.

"He has a good relationship with all the ministers in this room and some of the people who'd like to be ministers too. "I am sure he will speak to them all and make his own decisions."

Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar presents President Joe Biden with a bowl of Shamrocks during a St. Patrick's Day reception, March 17
Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar presents President Joe Biden with a bowl of Shamrocks during a St. Patrick's Day reception, March 17. Picture: Alamy

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It comes after Mr Varadkar announced his shock step down as premier last week, announcing he was no longer "the best person" for the top job.

Mr Varadkar became Ireland's youngest Taoiseach seven years ago when he became leader of Fine Gael.

He said being taoiseach had been the "most fulfilling time of my life".

The announcement came after a turbulent number of weeks for the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green Party coalition government.

A visibly emotional Leo Varadkar said his decision was both "personal and political".

"I believe this government can be re-elected and I believe my party, Fine Gael, can gain seats in the next poll," he said.

"Most of all I believe the re-election of this three-party government would be the right thing for the future of our country.

"Continuing to take us forward, protecting all that has been achieved and building on it.

"But, after careful consideration and some soul searching, I believe that a new Taoiseach and a new leader will be better placed than me to achieve that, to renew and strengthen the team, to focus our message and policies, to drive implementation.

"And, after seven years in office, I don't feel I'm the best person for that job anymore."

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