New Taoiseach goes AWOL
New Taoiseach goes AWOL


Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has hit out at the new 26 County Taoiseach Simon Harris for failing to attend parliament following his election to the premiership of the state.

Harris, who succeeded Leo Varadkar as Fine Gael leader late last month, was voted on Tuesday to head the coalition government with 88 TDs in the Dáil voting Yes and 69 voting No.

He was formally appointed Taoiseach after receiving his seal of office from President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, before naming a reshuffled cabinet.

Mr Harris’s last words in the Dáil on Tuesday had been “let’s get to work”, but “first day on the job he’s a no show. He’s as láthair [absent]”, Ms McDonald said.

Government Chief Whip Hildegarde Naughton said that Harris was unavailable to take Leaders’ Questions because was taking phone calls. The Sinn Féin leader said “that’s not acceptable” and said it showed his contempt for the Dáil.

She said government TDs “waxed lyrical yesterday about the incoming Taoiseach and he was apparently going to do in 10 months what you failed to do in 13 years. It was all about moving mountains and getting straight to work. And today he has not shown up. That is an absolute disgrace.”

After his nomination Simon Harris, borrowing the the words of Sinn Féin First Minister Michelle O’Neill, pledged to be a ‘Taoiseach for all’.

But there is little public expectation that he can make an impact – his party’s poll ratings have continued to drop since he was named as Taoiseach-designate.

He comes to the job as the youngest person ever to become Taoiseach, and faces the prospect of being the shortest-serving in the state’s history. An inexperienced career politician, he has taken up the post with just under a year left in his government’s mandate. With local and European elections just weeks away, a raft of senior figures have announced their retirement from parliamentary politics.

Last month, Fine Gael entered its 14th continuous year in office, and the 37-year-old has never served in opposition. His political career has been described as “failing upwards”, most notably in his four years as Minister for Health, which ended with a no-confidence motion in the Dáil.

He has not held any of the finance or economic portfolios, or foreign affairs, nor has he led the Opposition. Outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar summed it up when he said he always knew Simon Harris would be Taoiseach, he just didn’t think it would be so soon.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, speaking in the Dáil, called for an election. The current government and Fine Gael have ensured, she says, Ireland “is no country for young people.”

“We have had three new leaders in the current government,” she said. “This government has been like the last guest at a party who has worn out their welcome but still won’t go home.”

Harris’s subsequent statement in a television interview that Irish unification is “a legitimate aspiration but not a priority” has gone down badly with nationalists and republicans, although interim leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, Gavin Robinson, congratulated Harris on his appointment and said he looked forward to engaging with him “in due course.”

Writing ahead of Harris’s elevation, Ms McDonald pointed to a catalog of failure while he was Minister for Health, including the trolley crisis at the nation’s hospitals, a million patients on waiting lists, and the continuing debacle of the National Children’s Hospital.

“Simon Harris’ fingerprints are all over the mess that Fine Gael has made during their time in government,” she said.

“He has sat at the cabinet table for eight years as home ownership collapsed, as rents sky-rocketed and as our health services crumbled.

“He is a senior Minister in a government that has lurched from crisis to crisis, while utterly failing to deliver on the issues that matter to people.

“Sitting at the heart of government, Simon Harris has presided over an ever-worsening housing crisis, a crippling cost-of-living crisis, the ballooning of health waiting lists, and young people forced to emigrate in search of opportunity and a better life.

“In recent weeks, the government set another shameful record for the number of homeless people in this state. Yet, in the days since Simon Harris was chosen as Fine Gael leader, he hasn’t said a word on housing.

“He has remained silent on what is the biggest issue facing workers and families today. His silence on housing shows Simon Harris is more of the same.

“Expect more big promises, more big announcements but very little substance or delivery.”

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