HE minister to be Ireland’s youngest leader

Published 09/04/2024

Simon Harris, Ireland’s former higher education minister, was voted in as the country’s youngest government leader at a ceremony in Dublin on April 9.

After a vote in the Irish parliament in which Harris, 37, was backed by 88 votes to 69, he travelled to meet the president to be officially installed as taoiseach (prime minister).

Ireland’s leadership became vacant after former taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced his surprise resignation for “personal and political” reasons last month.

The ensuing leadership race in Varadkar’s Fine Gael party ended with only Harris coming forward, who was voted in as leader by the Irish parliament, the Dáil, on Tuesday 9 April.

Harris said that he accepted the new role “in a spirt of humility, ready for the challenge and full of energy and to determination about what can be achieved.”

He has previously said that he wants the centre-right Fine Gael, which governs with the conservative Fianna Fáil party and the Green Party, to revert to core values of law and order, making work pay, and supporting small businesses and farmers.

Harris has pledged to build 250,000 homes by 2030, addressing Ireland’s housing crisis which has made it increasingly difficult for students to secure accommodation.

Harris became the minister for higher education, research, innovation and science in June 2020, moving from his position as the minister of health.

While Harris was higher education minister, the Irish government invested money in student housing for the first time, spending €32m on the deliverance of 667 new beds.

As the UK and other major study destinations were closing their doors to international students, Harris set out in January the government’s plans for Ireland to become a “first choice” study destination and to grow the number of international students and researchers in the country by 10% by 2030.

“At a time when countries begin to look inward, I hope this strategy sends a clear message of Ireland’s commitment to continue to be a global, diverse society and for some a beacon of hope and educational opportunity, said Harris, announcing Ireland’s Global Citizens 2030 strategy in January 2024.

“[I’m] ready for the challenge and full of energy and to determination about what can be achieved”

As well as continuing Ireland’s strategy of attracting more international students, Harris displayed his commitment to creating more opportunities for Irish students studying abroad.

During his time as education minister, the Irish government committed €2 million to allow students in Northern Ireland to access the Erasmus+ exchange program, despite the UK pulling out of the program when it left the European Union in 2020.

Harris’ appointment follows on from Chris Hipkins in New Zealand, who made the same move from education minister to prime minister last year, leading the country from January – November 2023.

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