ATHLONE: Simon Harris is set to become Ireland’s next prime minister after the governing Fine Gael party appointed him as its leader on Sunday, following an uncontested election.

The 37-year-old said it was the “absolute honour of my life” to be appointed party leader, and his rise to the country’s top job is expected to be confirmed when the Irish parliament returns from recess early next month.

He will take over from Leo Varadkar, who announced his resignation on Wednesday in a move pundits described as a “political earthquake” in the EU member.

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 and no challengers emerging, party official Willie Geraght declared Harris as winner hours later at a convention in Athlone, west of Dublin.

Deputy party leader Simon Coveney said the new leader, and prime-minister-in-waiting, was a “really charismatic” politician who was “ideally placed” to revive his ailing party’s fortunes.

Upon his coronation, Harris told the centre-right party’s members that he would repay their faith with “hard work, with blood, sweat and tears, day in and day out with responsibility, with humility and with civility.” Setting out his priorities, Harris insisted that Fine Gael “stands for law and order” and told members he wanted to “take our flag back” from nationalists, to loud cheers.

He also said that he would pursue a “more planned and sustainable” immigration policy, following increased tension over the issue, and that he would “fight against the dangers of populism”.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2024

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