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09/04/24 | 7:27 pm

Simon Harris elected new Irish PM, promising ‘new ideas, energy’

Simon Harris became Ireland’s youngest ever prime minister on Tuesday, pledging to bring new ideas and energy to the less than 12 months he has boost the coalition government’s bid to halt a first electoral victory by left-wing Sinn Fein.

The 37-year-old former health and higher education minister, best known for helping steer the initial response to COVID-19, was elected unopposed as leader of Fine Gael last month, all but assuring he would succeed Leo Varadkar as the 16th person to lead the country following his predecessor’s shock exit.

“As Taoiseach (prime minister), I want to bring new ideas, a new energy, and a new empathy to public life,” Harris told lawmakers following a parliamentary vote, wiping a tear from his eye before he spoke.

“Now is an opportune time to build a new social contract – one which renews our promise as a Republic. To create equality of opportunity. To support those who need the state the most. To protect our hard-earned economic success. To use its benefits to deliver tangible outcomes to society.”

Harris will face the same deep-rooted problems, most notably a severe shortage of affordable housing and unease at record numbers of asylum seekers, that led to Fine Gael’s stagnation under Varadkar, and inherits a coalition agreement that leaves little room for major new policy initiatives.

He is due to announce a reshuffle of his Fine Gael team – which makes up seven of the 18 seats in cabinet – on Tuesday. It will not include the finance and foreign affairs portfolios, held by Fianna Fail’s Michael McGrath and Micheal Martin.

Harris, who quit university aged 20 to work as a political aide, was elected to parliament at 24 and appointed to cabinet before he turned 30, is a year younger than Varadkar was when he was first appointed prime minister in 2017.

Harris has pledged to fix the housing crisis “once and for all” – something that his predecessors have also promised – proposing an extension to support for developers and first-time buyers, while acknowledging the required boost to supply would take years.

(Reuters)

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