In the wake of Leo Varadkar’s shocking and emotional resignation earlier this week, Minister for Higher Education, Simon Harris, looks set to replace him as #Teesh and leader of Fine Gael. While Leo’s dramatic resignation sparked a brief wave of interest in Irish politics the Fine Gael leadership contest which followed did nothing but continue the dramatic trend. Mr Harris is so far the only person to have put themselves forth for the leadership position and with other potential heavyweights such as Pascal Donohoe, Helen McEntee and Simon Coveney falling over each other to rule themselves out of making a run as fast as possible as well as the deadline for nominations fast approaching (all candidates must be nominated by 1 pm on Sunday March 24th), Mr Harris looks to be set to assume the state’s highest office as soon as the Dáil returns on April 9th

I suppose we can’t be too harsh on Mr Harris’ colleagues for not making a fight of it when it never really seemed like they had a chance. Mr Harris, perhaps taking a leaf from Mr Varadkar’s own playbook went for a shock and awe approach when it became clear that the Fine Gael leadership was available – within three hours of announcing his candidacy, Mr Harris had received public endorsements from almost half of Fine Gael’s assorted TDs, Senators and MEPs. When faced with such an onslaught, who would put up a fight?

Seeing as it is all but inevitable at this stage, have there been any hints as to what we can expect from Mr Harris’ premiership? 

Off the bat Mr Harris has already one-upped his predecessor in one facet in that, at 37, he will replace Mr Varadkar as Ireland’s youngest ever taoiseach (Leo was a world-weary 38 when he summitted the political mountaintop). In a world where the prevalence of octogenarians running countries has become commonplace, it is nice to see that Ireland’s political climate (if nothing else) is dynamic enough to both produce and facilitate young people willing to commit themselves to public service.  

Harris has yet to make many concrete statements about his plans for his reign, but he has restated his party’s commitment to the current ruling coalition and stressed that planning regarding the timing of any potential upcoming general elections was not currently at the forefront of his mind. Additionally, he has reiterated that Fine Gael is steadfastly opposed to ever entering into coalition with Sinn Fein, a somewhat odd declaration for a man so currently unconcerned with future elections.

All joking aside, it is already clear that Mr Harris’ leadership will not be without stiff challenges. Even as the office of Taoiseach fell into his grasp on Friday, yet another Fine Gael TD, this time it was the turn of Josepha Madigan, announced that they will not be running in the next election. Including Ms Madigan, that is now 11 of Fine Gael’s 33 TDs who have declared that they are not running in the next election (make that 12 when Mr Varadkar likely joins them), leaving Mr Harris faced with the very real prospect of the first general election of his leadership being an abject disaster for the party, one that could very easily leave with their lowest ever number of seats (currently their worst ever return was the 30 seats they won in the 1944 election). The other side of this coin, of course, is that Mr Harris has an enormous opportunity to remake the party in his image; either way, there is a steep learning curve ahead of him.

Conor Power – Politics Editor