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A TikTok premier for Ireland

Simon Harris is expected to be elected Ireland's new Prime Minister today. For many Irish people, he still needs to make a name for himself, and he's trying to do that via social media. Nevertheless, he could remain an interim prime minister.

Christoph Prössl

When the Irish speak of their prime minister, they use the word Taoiseach – Gaelic for “leader”, prime minister. Pronounced, this word sounds like “table shock”. And because Simon Harris, who is very likely to be elected as the new Prime Minister today, is on TikTok a lot, the Irish call him “TikTok Tischock”, which sounds a bit funny.

Simon Harris is 37 years old, appears dynamic, he is a family man and – if everything goes well today – he will be the youngest Taoiseach ever elected. But huge challenges await him and he is a transitional prime minister.

The wallpaper is middle-class and the narrative format is up to date: Simon Harris explains the problems of the time on TikTok.

In a suit on the screen

But for now, he tackles all topics on TikTok. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, tuition fees, vaping: no topic is too complicated for the short clips, which have no music and come across as fairly sober.

A man in a suit explains the world on this otherwise colorful platform, and yet somehow it seems likeable. He has almost 100,000 followers. Addressing farmers, he says in one of his most recent contributions that climate policy can only be approached in partnership and that they should not be lectured to. But climate policy also brings new income opportunities, for example from the production of biogas.

The pressing problem of housing construction

Last weekend, Simon Harris explained to party members what his policy should be. He wants to promote housing construction and set the course so that young families can buy a property more easily. “We need more apartments and we need more apartment owners. In the next five years we will build 250,000 apartments.”

Nothing new, nothing surprising. And yet time is of the essence: the situation on the real estate market is difficult, especially for young families and young adults, and his party has failed to set the course in government.

protest against refugee policy

That was also one reason why young people in particular took to the streets at the end of last year. There were riots and right-wing radicals mingled with the protesters. The demonstrations also focused on the issue of refugees and the impression that Ireland may have taken in too many and that the housing market was therefore tense. Experts like Rory Hearne disagree. The professor at Maynooth University argues that the government has neglected housing construction for years and that refugees are simply being exploited in the debate.

There is no shortage of money. Economic growth is solid in Ireland. The tax rate in Ireland is particularly low. The Republic receives a lot of taxes from international corporations based in Dublin. The government has generated surpluses in the past. But apparently not everyone gets the money.

Harris also promises more educational equality: “Under my leadership, this party will continue the course of breaking down barriers.” It's primarily about tuition fees, which Harris wants to reduce. He comes from a household where there wasn't much money: his father was a taxi driver, his mother was a special education teacher.

Already an alum after the election?

He doesn't have much time for a new policy and there is so much to do, he told party members. After the surprising resignation of his predecessor, he is now taking over, but new elections must take place by spring 2025. And the opposition party Sinn Fein is well ahead in the polls. Fine Gael, Harris' party, governs in a coalition with the Greens and Fianna Fail.

Will Harris be able to rise to the challenge? Will he be such a good Taoiseach that he can save the party from defeat in the upcoming elections? The commentator and author Fintan O'Toole wrote in the Irish Times that Harris made his career primarily as health minister. That was during the pandemic, when the important decisions were not made by him, but by the Prime Minister.

That means: Harris has not yet proven whether he is an assertive politician or whether he simply survived his time as a minister without scandal.

Christoph Prössl, ARD London, tagesschau, April 9, 2024 5:51 a.m

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