The five landmines that lie ahead for Simon Harris

As the election cycle kicks off, the new Taoiseach will have plenty on his plate

Local and Europeans election

The Fine Gael leader will face his first electoral test in less than 60 days with the local and European elections, so the pressure is on pretty much immediately. The party won 255 seats in the 2019 local election, up 20 seats on the previous election in 2014. While Sinn Féin has seen its poll results flatline slightly in recent weeks it is sure to take considerably more than the 81 seats the party claimed in 2019. Fine Gael is fielding more than 340 candidates this time around, but the party is under pressure locally, with housing, health and immigration topping voters’ concerns in recent months. Then there are the European elections. These can be notoriously hard to predict. The increase in population recorded in the last census resulted in Ireland getting an extra seat, bringing the total to 14. Fine Gael was the big winner in the 2019 European elections, taking five seats out of 13. Holding on to these five seats will be an uphill battle for Harris.

Further resignations

At least 11 Fine Gael TDs have said they will not contest the next general election, presenting Harris with another headache. There have been suggestions that more resignations could be on the cards. For example, outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has hinted that he plans to make up his mind about his future in politics over the summer. In a political system that favours incumbency and rewards name recognition, the new Fine Gael leader may find himself having to convince yet more colleagues not to flee the ship.


Budget 2025

This will be the last budget of this Government’s term, and so the pressure will be on the new Taoiseach to splash the cash and give the voters a reason to stick with Fine Gael. There has already been resistance within the Coalition from the likes of Minister for Finance Michael McGrath to the idea of a spring package of supports for hard-pressed business owners. Businesses are facing a raft of extra increases because of new measures such as extra sick pay and auto-enrolment pensions, so Harris will have to balance keeping his promise to SMEs, taxpayers and farmers while maintaining a steady hand on the public purse.


Recent poll results from The Irish Times Snapshot series have shown that immigration remains a hot topic with voters. According to the Government’s new strategy to accommodate asylum seekers, the plan is to eventually move away from using hotels and other privately-provided accommodation to State beds. This, however, will take years. By 2028 up to 35,000 beds will be needed to accommodate expected arrivals. However, the continued upheaval across Europe and the possible re-election of Donald Trump in the US could make these projections redundant.

General election

Harris will face his ultimate test as Fine Gael leader whenever the next general election rolls around. The political wisdom of the moment sees him continue this Government’s term all the way until next March. But with the raft of Fine Gael resignations, he faces into the next general election having lost a team of established vote-getters. He will have to find more candidates – and more female candidates – within the next few months, and will have to somehow convince voters on Fine Gael’s record on the big topics that matter, notably housing. Given record homeless figures he has a fight on his hands.