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Simon Harris brings new faces into Cabinet in reshuffle

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Simon Harris completed his first task after becoming Ireland’s youngest Taoiseach by filling Cabinet vacancies.

The new premier and Fine Gael leader promoted two junior ministerial colleagues to the Enterprise and Further Education portfolios.

Peter Burke, who had been Minister of State for European Affairs, was appointed Minister for Enterprise, and Mr Harris gave his former role of Minister for Further and Higher Education to Patrick O’Donovan, a promotion for the Limerick TD who had been serving as Minister of State for the Office of Public Works (OPW).

Helen McEntee retained her Justice portfolio and Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys also held on to their positions.

Mr Harris, 37, officially became Taoiseach after a ceremony with President Michael D Higgins at his official residence at Aras an Uachtarain in Dublin, shortly after a majority of Irish parliamentarians approved his premiership.

Mr Higgins signed the Warrant of Appointment and handed the Seal of the Taoiseach and the Seal of Government to Mr Harris.

Hours later, Mr Harris returned with his Cabinet after announcing a reshuffle of Fine Gael ministers and the two new ministers received their seal of office from Mr Higgins.

Hildegarde Naughton, who has retained her position as Government chief whip, is the new Minister of State for Special Education and leaves her position as junior minister at the Department of Health.

Jennifer Carroll Mac Neill, who had been a Minister of State with responsibility for Financial Services, fills the vacant role of Minister of State for European Affairs.

The remaining junior ministerial positions are expected to be filled by Mr Harris on Wednesday.

Simon Harris with his wife Caoimhe and children Cillian and Saoirse (Maxwell Photography/PA)
Simon Harris with his wife Caoimhe and children Cillian and Saoirse (Maxwell Photography/PA)

Mr Harris’s nomination to become the country’s new premier was backed by 88 votes to 69, while the ministerial appointments were approved by 87 votes for and 68 against.

Mr Harris became Ireland’s fifteenth taoiseach after the surprise resignation of Leo Varadkar as Fine Gael leader three weeks ago.

Mr Varadkar formally resigned as taoiseach at an audience with Mr Higgins on Monday, hours before Mr Harris’s appointment on Tuesday.

The Wicklow TD’s wife Caoimhe, and young children Saoirse and Cillian, were in the public gallery of the Dail for proceedings, as were his parents Mary and Bart, brother Adam, sister Gemma and grandmother Ann.

Mr Harris has become leader of the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green Party coalition government with less than a year before a general election must be called.

Leo Varadkar speaking in the Dail (Maxwell Photography/PA)
Leo Varadkar speaking in the Dail (Maxwell Photography/PA)

Government TDs rose to applaud as the outcome of the vote was announced, and later cheered and hugged Mr Harris as he emerged from the parliament building at Leinster House in central Dublin ahead of his visit to the president.

Addressing the Dail, Mr Harris said he was committed to doing everything he could to honour the trust placed in him.

He said he hoped to lead a “partnership government” in a spirit of “unity, collaboration and mutual respect”.

He paid warm tribute to Mr Varadkar for his “incredible service”, highlighting his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fallout from Brexit.

Mr Harris spoke of his love for his family, describing his wife as his “rock” and promising his children that “being your dad will remain my most important job”.

He accepted his new role in a “spirit of humility, ready for the challenge, and full of energy and determination about what can be achieved”.

Simon Harris with President Michael D Higgins (Damien Storan/PA)
Simon Harris with President Michael D Higgins (Damien Storan/PA)

“As Taoiseach I want to bring new ideas, a new energy, and I hope a new empathy to public life,” he added.

“But politics is not about the office holder. This is not about me – it’s about all of us, all of us working together to serve the people.”

He pledged to address acute housing shortages in Ireland, describing the crisis as the “greatest societal and economic challenge of our generation”.

“Today, I recommit to moving mountains to help build more homes and drive more home ownership,” he said.

He also promised to deliver improvements in healthcare provision, oversee a “step change” in care for older people, and achieve “real and meaningful reform” for people with disabilities.

Mr Harris also reiterated his support for the people of Ukraine and restated his call for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Micheal Martin spoke in support of Mr Harris’s nomination (Maxwell Photography/PA)
Micheal Martin spoke in support of Mr Harris’s nomination (Maxwell Photography/PA)

He said it was an “opportune time” to build a new social contract that renewed Ireland’s founding principles as a republic.

“To create equality of opportunity,” he said.

“To support those who need the state the most. To protect our hard-earned economic success.

“To use its benefits to deliver tangible outcomes to society. Time is short and there is lots to do.”

Mr Harris said he wanted to rise above “partisan politics” and work to solve the greatest challenges facing Ireland.

“The people expect us to do more; we should demand of ourselves no less,” he added.

Another Fine Gael taoiseach is the last thing the people need. We need a change of leadership, we need a change of government
Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald

After Mr Varadkar’s resignation, Mr Harris emerged as the only contender to replace him as Fine Gael leader.

He has pledged to focus on more “bread and butter” issues and has repeatedly mentioned supporting small businesses facing high costs, helping farmers and focusing on crime and security.

Mr Harris has also made clear he intends for the coalition between Civil War-era rivals Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, as well as the Greens, to run its full term to March 2025.

During proceedings in the Dail, Opposition TDs repeatedly called for an immediate general election, as they criticised the nomination of a new taoiseach without first going to the electorate.

The sitting began with an address by Mr Varadkar, who said his work in politics had been the “most fulfilling and rewarding time” of his life.

“But today is the beginning of a new era for my party, a new chapter in my life and a new phase for this coalition Government,” he added.

Fine Gael deputy leader and social protection minister Heather Humphreys proposed Mr Harris as Taoiseach, with Peter Burke seconding him.

Fianna Fail leader and deputy premier Micheal Martin spoke in support of Mr Harris’s nomination, as did Green Party leader Eamon Ryan.

“It’s a special day for you and I look forward to a constructive and effective co-operation in the time ahead,” Mr Martin told Mr Harris.

Mr Ryan has said he is committed to continuing the coalition deal until the end of the mandate, and rejected calls for an election.

“I hear others saying we have to have an election now. I fundamentally disagree because there is work to be done that we can deliver,” he said.

Mary Lou McDonald, leader of main opposition party Sinn Fein, criticised Mr Harris’s record in government as she restated her demand for a general election.

“Another Fine Gael taoiseach is the last thing the people need. We need a change of leadership, we need a change of government,” she said.

She accused the Government of trying to present a narrative that “dresses up failure as progress”.

“It’s your century-old cosy club, circling the wagons once again to cling to power at all costs,” she said.

“I believe that the people of Ireland deserve so much better.

“If you really believe that your Government has the support of the people, then you should go before the people and get that mandate.”

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