Ireland to get its youngest ever premier as Simon Harris elected leader of Fine Gael party

Ireland’s Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, speaks after being announced as the new leader of Fine Gael at the party’s leadership election convention, in Athlone, Ireland, on March 24, 2024.

Ireland’s Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, speaks after being announced as the new leader of Fine Gael at the party’s leadership election convention, in Athlone, Ireland, on March 24, 2024.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

Ireland is poised to get its youngest-ever premier after Simon Harris secured the leadership of the Fine Gael party on Sunday, replacing Leo Varadkar who announced his surprise resignation last week.

The 37-year-old Mr. Harris, who is the government’s Further and Higher Education Minister, was the only candidate to put his name forward to succeed Mr. Varadkar, who had been Ireland’s previous youngest Prime Minister, or what Ireland calls its taoiseach.

Mr. Harris won a series of endorsements from within the Fine Gael parliamentary party and is expected to be formally elected premier in the Irish parliament in April after lawmakers return from their Easter break.

“I think he’s done a really good job in securing the leadership in as comprehensive a way as he has,” Fine Gael deputy leader Simon Coveney said.

Mr. Harris has said that he would remain fully committed to the program for government agreed upon with coalition partners Fianna Fail and the Green Party. He has stopped short of ruling out a general election this year, but insisted such a poll was not his priority.

Mr. Varadkar, 45, has had two spells as taoiseach — between 2017 and 2020, and again since December 2022 as part of a job-share with Micheál Martin, head of coalition partner Fianna Fáil.

He was the country’s youngest-ever leader when first elected at age 38, as well as Ireland’s first openly gay Prime Minister. Mr. Varadkar, whose mother is Irish and father is Indian, was also Ireland’s first biracial taoiseach.

He played a leading role in campaigns to legalize same-sex marriage, approved in a 2015 referendum, and to repeal a ban on abortion, which passed in a vote in 2018.

He led Ireland during the years after Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union. Brexit had huge implications for Ireland, an EU member that shares a border with the U.K.’s Northern Ireland. U.K.-Ireland relations were strained while hardcore Brexit-backer Boris Johnson was U.K. leader, but have steadied since the arrival of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

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