Simon Harris
Simon Harris waving as he he leaves from Leinster House, the seat of the Irish Parliament, after being voted in as Ireland's new Prime Minister. Image Credit: HOUSES OF THE OIREACHTAS/AFP

Dublin: Simon Harris on Tuesday became Ireland's new prime minister, replacing Leo Varadkar after he abruptly quit last month citing personal and political reasons.

Ireland's parliament voted 88 to 69 in favour of Harris, 37, becoming "taoiseach" - a Gaelic word for "chieftain" or "leader" pronounced "tee-shock".

He was officially installed later at a ceremony with President Michael D. Higgins, becoming the country's youngest ever prime minister.

The centre-right Fine Gael party - part of a three-party governing coalition - selected Harris as its leader following an uncontested election after Varadkar announced his resignation.

On accepting the nomination on Tuesday, Harris told parliament: "I commit to doing everything that I can to honour the trust that you have placed in me today.

"This is very much a partnership government and I intend to lead us in the spirit of unity, collaboration and mutual respect," he said, watched on by his wife and two children.

"I want to bring new ideas and new energy and, I hope, a new empathy to public life. Time is certainly short, and there's a lot to do," Harris added.

Varadkar, who was in his second stint as prime minister and at 45 was one of Europe's youngest leaders, said last month that he felt he was no longer the "best person" to lead the country.

The outgoing leader, who himself was the youngest taoiseach when first elected in 2017, on Tuesday said that he "always knew" Harris would fill the top job.

"This has perhaps come a little bit sooner than he might have planned or expected. But I know he will rise to the occasion," Varadkar said.

"He has the empathy, energy, experience, campaigning skills and political antenna to take us forward."

Meteoric rise

Harris's crowning as prime minister caps a meteoric political rise.

He joined the youth branch of Fine Gael at the age of 16 and quickly rose through its ranks.

A county councillor at the age of 22, he was elected to parliament in 2011 as a 24-year-old.

At the time he was the youngest MP and was nicknamed "Baby of the Dail" (Irish parliament).

He was appointed health minister in 2016 aged just 29 and higher education minister in 2020.

Even critics concede he is a talented communicator.

Harris's prominence on social media, especially TikTok, has made him one of the most visible politicians in Ireland.

The new taoiseach faces a formidable to-do list, including tackling housing and homelessness crises, and criticism of government policy on asylum seekers.

One of his first jobs will be to choose his cabinet of ministers.

When he was selected as party leader last month, Harris told 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".

He also said he would focus on building more homes, pursue a "more planned and sustainable" immigration policy, following increased tension over the issue, and that he would "fight against the dangers of populism".

Harris will also urgently seek to galvanise his struggling party, which lags in polls as key elections loom.

Ireland votes in local and European parliament ballots on June 7, while the next general election must be held by March 2025.

Fine Gael slumped to third place at the last general election in 2020, well behind left-wing, nationalist Sinn Fein, which secured the largest share of the vote.

Sinn Fein - the former political wing of the paramilitary IRA - remained outside the governing coalition but still leads in the polls.