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Harris is expected to become Irish prime minister as the leadership vote draws to a close

ATHLONE, Ireland: Simon Harris became Ireland’s prime minister in office on Sunday (March 24) after nominations for the leadership of the ruling Fine Gael party were closed and no other candidate publicly declared their intention to succeed Leo Varadkar.

Harris, a 37-year-old minister best known for helping to steer the country’s initial response to COVID-19, will be announced as the center-right party’s new leader later on Sunday at an event in the Irish Midlands city address their members from Athlone.

Thanks to the support of Fine Gael’s coalition partners, he will then be elected Ireland’s youngest ever prime minister at the next parliamentary session on April 9th.

Harris will have no more than a year to save the coalition from defeat in the general election. Polls over the past three years have placed Sinn Féin, a left-wing party that supports unification with Northern Ireland, a British province, as the favorite to lead the next government.

However, two further polls on Sunday confirmed that support for Sinn Féin has fallen recently from highs of 12 to 18 months ago, although they again broadly showed smaller parties and independent candidates as beneficiaries over the governing parties.

A Business Post/Red C poll conducted before Varadkar’s departure showed Sinn Féin with a lead of 6 percentage points over the faltering Fine Gael, while an Irish Independent/Ireland Thinks poll after his departure showed it ahead by 6 percentage points 5 percentage points after a small increase from Fine Gael.

Varadkar announced his resignation to great shock on Wednesday, surprising even his closest political allies by saying Fine Gael would have a better chance of re-election under a different leader.

Harris has spoken in recent days about how he became involved in politics as an “opinionated, moody teenager” and was upset that his autistic brother was not receiving school support. He has tried to portray himself as an “accidental politician” despite having spent most of his adult life in Parliament.

He is one of Ireland’s best-known ministers and a strong media figure. His prominent social media presence prompted one opponent in Parliament to call Harris the “TikTok Taoiseach” (Irish for Prime Minister).

While the economy grew strongly under Varadkar, successive governments of which Harris served struggled to cope with a decades-long housing crisis and, more recently, the pressures of record numbers of asylum seekers and refugees.

Taking on a three-party coalition government working on an agreed policy program will give Harris little scope for major new policy initiatives.

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