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'Looking forward to...': PM Modi congratulates Simon Harris on becoming Ireland's youngest premier

PM Modi, while congratulating Harris, highlighted the historic ties between India and Ireland that are based on shared belief in democratic values. Harris became the youngest PM on Tuesday weeks after the surprise resignation of openly gay and Indian-origin PM Leo Varadkar.

Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee New Delhi Published on: April 10, 2024 15:58 IST
PM Modi, Ireland, Simon Harris, youngest PM
Image Source : AP PM Narendra Modi and Simon Harris, Ireland's youngest premier

New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday extended his congratulations to Simon Harris, who became Ireland's youngest premier at 37 years of age, following the surprise resignation of his predecessor, the openly gay and Indian-origin Leo Varadkar. Harris will now take over as the head of Ireland's three-party coalition government led by the centre-right Fine Gael party and was already poised to replace Varadkar.

The 37-year-old Harris, who has been the coalition government's further and higher education minister, was the only candidate to put his name forward to succeed Varadkar, who had been Ireland's previous youngest prime minister, or what Ireland calls its taoiseach. Varadkar announced his resignation on March 20 due to "personal and political reasons" and said he had no future plans, apart from remaining in parliament as a backbench lawmaker.

"Congratulations @SimonHarrisTD on becoming youngest ever Prime Minister of Ireland. Highly value our historical ties that are based on shared belief in democratic values. Looking forward to work together to further strengthen India- Ireland bilateral partnership," said PM Modi on X.

Harris was formally appointed to the post by President Michael D Higgins in a ceremony at the president's official residence in Dublin. Lawmakers in the Dáil, the lower house of Ireland's parliament, confirmed Harris as taoiseach, or prime minister, by an 88-69 vote. He now faces challenges including a strained health service, soaring housing costs and an exodus of Fine Gael lawmakers, more than 10 of whom have said they will not run for reelection.

“I commit to doing everything that I can to honour the trust that you have placed in me today,” Harris said. “As taoiseach I want to bring new ideas, a new energy and a new empathy to public life". At the age of 16 years, Harris joined Fine Gael's youth branch and advanced through the ranks fast.He was elected to parliament in 2011 at the age of 24, having served as a county councillor at the age of 22.

He was dubbed "Baby of the Dail" (the Irish parliament) since he was the youngest member at the time. At 29, he was appointed minister of health in 2016 and minister of higher education in 2020.

Leo Varadkar's tenure

Leo Varadkar was the previous youngest-ever premier when first elected at age 38, as well as Ireland's first openly gay prime minister. He was also Ireland's first biracial PM - his mother is Irish and his father is Indian. The 45-year-old  had two spells as taoiseach, or prime minister — between 2017 and 2020, and again since December 2022 as part of a job-share with Micheál Martin, head of coalition partner Fianna Fáil.

He played a leading role in campaigns to legalize same-sex marriage, approved in a 2015 referendum, and to repeal a ban on abortion, which passed in a vote in 2018. “I’m proud that we have made the country a more equal and more modern place,” Varadkar said in a resignation statement in Dublin last month. However, he has faced growing discontent within Fine Gael. Ten of the party’s lawmakers, almost a third of the total, have announced they will not run for reelection.

India-Ireland relations

India's interactions with Ireland date back to the 19th century when a significant number of Irishmen joined the British Civil Service, medical, engineering and army services in pre-independent India. These links were further strengthened by connections between the nationalist movements of the two countries since the early 1900s.

India formally established diplomatic relations with Ireland in 1947 and opened its embassy in Dublin in 1951. The Irish Embassy in New Delhi was opened in 1964 and Honorary Consulates in Mumbai and Bengaluru in 1976 and 2000 respectively. PM Modi embarked on a visit to Dublin in 2015. Bilateral trade between the two countries also rose to $4,211 million in 2023.

(with inputs from agencies)

ALSO READ | Ireland: Simon Harris becomes youngest PM after openly gay, Indian-origin Leo Varadkar quits

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