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New Fine Gael leader Simon Harris says it is time for the party to ‘reset’

Simon Harris has said it is the moment for Fine Gael to “reset” as he was confirmed as party leader – paving the way for him to become Ireland’s youngest premier.

Speaking at a party meeting in Athlone, Mr Harris also said he would be going back to the “decent, hardworking grassroots” of Fine Gael.

He was confirmed as leader at the meeting by the chairman of the party’s executive council, Willie Geraghty, after nominations closed and no other candidates put their names forward for the leadership.

Mr Harris, 37, currently the further and higher education minister, will be formally elected as taoiseach in the Dail in April following the Easter recess.

It follows the shock announcement by Leo Varadkar that he would be stepping down as Fine Gael leader and would resign as Taoiseach as soon as his successor was selected.

Speaking to party members, Mr Harris said he would repay the trust put in him with hard work.

He added: “With blood, sweat and tears – day in and day out.

“With responsibility, with humility and with civility.”

The new leader defended his party’s record in government against attacks from Sinn Fein.

He said: “Sinn Fein can’t bear to look back over what Fine Gael has achieved since pulling our economy back from the brink. Always seeking to denigrate our service in government by denying reality.

“They can’t handle the truth. We will not stand for that.”

He continued: “It is a moment for Fine Gael to reconnect.

“It is a moment for Fine Gael to renew our commitment to the people.

“There is a hell of a lot to get done in the time ahead.”

He added: “Let me say this: under my leadership, Fine Gael stands for supporting businesses, especially small businesses. Fine Gael stands for making work pay.

“Fine Gael stands for supporting education and educational pathways for all – to ensure equality of opportunity is not a slogan but is a value that is woven through everything we do.

“Fine Gael stands for law and order, on the side of An Garda Siochana, where our streets are safe and crime is never allowed go unchecked.”

Fine Gael leadership contest
Simon Harris said Fine Gael was the party of law and order (Nick Bradshaw/PA)

Mr Harris received applause as he referenced the funeral of Pearse McAuley earlier this week. McAuley had been convicted of the murder of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe in 1996.

He said: “When I saw the tricolour of this republic draped over the coffin of a garda killer, I say shame.”

The Wicklow TD used his speech to reaffirm Fine Gael as a “proudly pro-European party”, condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

He added: “I want this party to fight against populism and deliberate polarisation.

“We must and we will do this with civility, with honesty, with a determination to debate without rancour and personal demonisation.

“But let no-one mistake my civility for lack of resolve.

“I know I won’t get everything right. But I am going to bring energy and renewal to this party.

“In the hours, days and weeks ahead I will be going back to the decent, hardworking grassroots of this party and listening carefully to what you want to see happen next.”

The new Fine Gael leader said his party would continue to work with its coalition partners, Fianna Fail and the Green Party, to “meet challenging times with hope and determination”.

He said he would set out more detail about the party’s direction under his leadership at its upcoming Ard Pheis.

He concluded: “I know the value of hard work.

“And I feel the desperate need for hope.

“I promise to do my damnedest for the good of this party and the good of this country.

“I’m up for it. I’m ready.”

Outgoing Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach, Mr Varadkar surprised many within the political establishment by announcing his resignation on Wednesday.

He said he was resigning for “personal and political reasons” and was “not the best person for the job anymore”.