Ireland gets the youngest prime minister in its history: at the age of 37, Simon Harris takes over the leadership of the EU country. Parliament in Dublin elected him on Tuesday to succeed Leo Varadkar, who unexpectedly resigned. The previous Higher Education Minister Harris quickly rose politically – and after his election made the promise to his two small children: “I promise that being your dad will always be my most important job.” He was then officially appointed “Taoiseach” by President Michael D. Higgins, as the office is called in Irish and which is roughly pronounced “ti-shock”.

Political commentators say Harris has a lot of ambition. He was the only candidate and was elected with 88 votes to 69. Harris is now the 15th prime minister in the country’s history and a year younger than his colleague Varadkar from the liberal-conservative Fine Gael party was when he took office.

Harris – born in October 1986 – has already held several cabinet positions, was Health Minister at the beginning of the pandemic and was most recently responsible for universities, science and research. According to his own statements, he was influenced by his brother’s autism diagnosis. That’s when he started campaigning for better information and support.

Harris also uses platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok for his politics. He regularly publishes videos there, which is why the “Politico” portal and the British newspaper “Guardian” have already referred to him as the “Tiktok Prime Minister” – even if, with around 100,000 followers, he is still well away from the numbers of big Tiktok stars. In the clips he promotes political decisions, sometimes makes tea or encourages students before their exams.

The Irish Times newspaper wrote that a colleague once described Harris as cute, cunning and smart: “You’re satisfied that he’s listened to you, even if he doesn’t deliver afterwards. And he knows everything that’s happening in your constituency .” According to the newspaper, Harris is also expected to succeed in winning more young people to his party.

The coalition partners – the liberal-conservative Fianna Fáil party and the Greens – supported Harris’ election. He is already the third prime minister within a legislative period. The opposition around the left-wing Sinn Fein party called for a new election. Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald criticized his performance as a minister: “It seems that in this government you can fail your way to the top.” Concerns such as the housing crisis and homelessness would now continue, as would the “crisis in our hospitals”.

Harris’ predecessor Varadkar succeeded Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin at the end of 2022 – the coalition partners had agreed on this division of office, also in order to keep Sinn Fein out of the government. Ireland, with its 5.1 million inhabitants, must elect a new parliament by spring 2025 at the latest.

The previous head of government, Varadkar, announced his resignation in mid-March, surprising both his own party and his coalition partners. The 45-year-old referred to personal and political reasons, but did not give any details. According to commentators, the homosexual Varadkar further opened up the strict Catholic society. However, his government recently suffered defeats in two referendums: it wanted to modernize two places in the constitution on the concept of family and the role of women in the household, but did not get a majority for it. Critics blamed the government’s chaotic approach for this. Varadkar was also accused of mistakes in social and housing policy.

Harris has already announced that he will focus on housing policy, law and order enforcement and supporting small businesses. He wanted to be a “Taoiseach” for everyone, he said in Parliament, where his wife Caoimhe and children Cillian and Saoirse also watched the election. In terms of foreign policy, it will be interesting to see how Ireland positions itself on the Gaza war. Varadkar had criticized Israel’s behavior early on.

An important issue for Harris is likely to be the question of reunification with Northern Ireland, which belongs to the important neighbor United Kingdom. Thousands of people were killed in a long civil war between opponents and supporters of political union.

The TV channel Sky News asked Harris whether he shared his predecessor’s opinion that he would see a united Ireland in his lifetime. That is a legitimate political goal, but not one of his priorities at the moment, Harris replied. Brexit was a challenging time. While Great Britain has left the European Union, Ireland remains an EU member – which is why special rules are needed for the border with Northern Ireland.