Incoming Irish Premier Says Housing, Migration Are Priorities

Incoming Irish Premier Says Housing, Migration Are Priorities

Ireland’s incoming Prime Minister Simon Harris gave his first speech as leader of the Fine Gael party, outlining priorities for the government ahead of his nomination as prime minister next week.

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(Bloomberg) — Ireland’s incoming Prime Minister Simon Harris gave his first speech as leader of the Fine Gael party, outlining priorities for the government ahead of his nomination as prime minister next week. 

Harris, who was voted in as leader of his party two weeks ago after prime minister Leo Varadkar resigned suddenly, pledged in a televised address on Saturday that the government will focus on issues ranging from ensuring continued economic growth to tackling the country’s housing crisis, migration, climate change and the conflict in the Middle East. 

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“I will take office when time is short but there is much to do,” said Harris, who will lead Fine Gael in local and European Parliament elections just two months after taking office. “I’m gonna hit the ground running,” he said in front of a crowd of almost 2,000 people at his party’s annual conference in Galway. 

Emphasizing the strength of the Irish economy, Harris said that the party will “protect the economy.” 

“It is now time to convert that economic success into real and tangible improvements for all of our people,” he said. 

Harris will have at most one year to make progress on those priorities before a general election must be held by March next year. Despite overseeing a strong economic performance along with their coalition government partners, Fine Gael has seen its popularity dip in recent opinion polls. 

The coalition government — made up of Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Green Party — suffered recent defeats in two referendum campaigns on social issues. And in an even bigger blow, a third of Fine Gael members of parliament have said that they will not be running in the next general election. 

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Fine Gael is counting on Harris to inject energy into their campaign ahead of local and European Parliament elections in June. The 37-year-old will be Ireland’s youngest ever prime minister and has a significant following on TikTok, giving rise to a nickname of TikTok Taoiseach, the Irish word for prime minister. 

However, Harris faces significant challenges and will have to try and fend off opposition party, the Irish nationalist Sinn Fein, which has become increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among younger voters with alternative proposals on issues like housing. 

Read more: Ireland’s Next Leader Has a Tough Job: Hold Back Sinn Fein

“I am of a generation where home ownership can feel out of the reach of many,” Harris said in his speech. “We will build 250,000 homes over the next five years,” he pledged. 

Ireland has also been facing an accommodation crisis for asylum seekers arriving in the country, with 1,600 homeless. There have been protests and arson attacks on accommodation earmarked or rumored to be earmarked to house asylum seekers. 

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“This is still a relatively new reality for Ireland and Irish people,” said Harris. Ireland plans to join the EU migration pact as part of efforts to deal with the flow of migrants and indicating a stronger policy stance on immigration. “We have to better manage migration. We need a fair and firm system,” he added.

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Speaking at the party conference on Saturday, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe praised Varadkar’s performance but also acknowledged “there are things that we need to do better and things that Fine Gael needs to demonstrate progress on during this government and into time ahead.” 

Fine Gael and its coalition partners have indicated that they want the current government serve its full term in office. 

“I am very clear in relation to mature, responsible leadership and that means that this Government intends to go full term,” Harris told reporters ahead of the party conference on Friday. 

Harris didn’t address speculation over the make-up of his cabinet Saturday. The incoming prime minister has two vacancies to fill after Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney announced this week that he will be stepping down from the cabinet and Varadkar said that he will not take a cabinet position. 

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