Ireland’s Simon Harris on track to be next prime minister

By Thomson Reuters Mar 21, 2024 | 8:26 AM

DUBLIN (Reuters) -Ireland’s Simon Harris is the clear frontrunner to become the country’s next prime minister, after other potential candidates said they would not run to replace the outgoing Leo Varadkar.

Varadkar announced his shock departure on Wednesday citing personal and political reasons, prompting an internal contest within the governing Fine Gael party to replace him. It does not trigger a general election but Varadkar’s successor faces a tough task to improve the fortunes of Fine Gael.

It is likely that Harris, currently Minister for Further and Higher Education, will be the only candidate if, as expected, he confirms his intention to run later on Thursday.

Harris has so far received support from most of the Fine Gael parliamentary party and is the favourite with bookmakers.

Others seen as possible contenders, including Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe have all ruled themselves out.

Any rival candidate would still have until Monday to enter the race.

Harris, 37, would become the country’s youngest prime minister if elected, surpassing Varadkar, who was 38 when he was first appointed in 2017. Harris’s public profile rose during his spell as health minister during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whoever wins will have up to 12 months before a general election to try to overturn a wide opinion poll deficit. Both Fine Gael and their largest coalition partner Fianna Fail are trailing the main opposition Sinn Fein party, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

Varadkar is currently in Brussels for what is likely his last attendance at a European Council meeting.

(Reporting by Graham Fahy; editing by William James)