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New Taoiseach faces so many challenges

April 13th, 2024 11:00 PM

By Southern Star Team

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A NEW Taoiseach has taken his seat at the cabinet table this week.

Simon Harris, the fresh-faced 37-year-old from Bray in Co Wicklow stepped up to the role with a very admirable and well-rounded speech, which prompted a standing ovation from his colleagues.

Nominating the Wicklow man for the role of Taoiseach in Leinster House on Tuesday, Minister Heather Humphries said that when she first saw him in 2011 she thought he was a school student or ‘on work experience’, such was the youthful look of ‘this young lad walking around the place’.

If Taoiseach Harris looks young to many of his fellow TDs, at least his rhetoric appears to have been created by someone with a much older head on their shoulders.

Apart from his very cute reference to his ‘nana’, the former minister delivered a speech that drew on the serious themes of optimism and growth, and urged his Dáil colleagues to work with him, to help tackle some of the biggest challenges facing the country on both a domestic and international front.

‘I want to work every day to improve the lives of everybody in this country,’ he said adding that he also wanted to ‘act decisively in the true interests’ of these people.

He implored the Irish to ‘not make the mistake of giving into pessimism’ and told his fellow chamber-mates: ‘People expect us to do more. We should demand of ourselves no less,’ These were the impactful words he used to conclude a very impressive acceptance speech.

The young TD, who has risen steadily to the highest rank in his profession domestically, is what is known as a ‘millennial’ in generation terms – having been born in 1986 – so within the 1981-1996 range that denotes that generation of young go-getters.

Harris is certainly a far cry from the ‘nepo babies’ of Irish politics – as millennials like to call them – of yesteryear, where so many successful deputies were simply following in their parents’ footsteps, or had other close connections with what was back then seen as the closed shop of Irish politics.

Harris is from a modern Irish family – his dad was a taxi driver and his mother a special needs assistant. He has just two siblings, and is the first member of his family to consider politics. He began studying journalism in Dublin but opted out when his political potential became evident and he was elected at the tender age of 24 in 2011.

He described himself this week a friend of former Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and said his predecessor was a ‘trailblazer’. It appears he may have seen the former Taoiseach as something of a mentor to him. When Leo took the reins of the country in 2017 he was also seen as a youthful, forward-thinking modern politician – a Generation Xer.

At the time, aged 38, he was then Ireland’s youngest Taoiseach, just a year older than Harris is now. So both men have helped bring a much more youthful element to Irish political leadership in a few short years.

But managing the tricky waters ahead, both at home and internationally, will take more than youthful enthusiasm.

The challenges are myriad, including housing, health, immigration, climate change and the economy. It will take someone with a steady hand on the tiller and a strong constitution for what may well be very choppy seas needing careful navigation.

Let’s hope Harris’ obvious willingness to take advice from others can make up for what he may be lacking in age and experience – at least until the next election when our democratic process will allow the Irish public to give their assessment of his performance.

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