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Simon Harris expected to be confirmed as new Fine Gael leader

Simon Harris is set to become the new leader of Fine Gael when nominations close later on Sunday.

It paves the way for Mr Harris, the further and higher education minister, to become Ireland’s youngest premier following the shock resignation of Leo Varadkar.

Mr Harris announced his candidature on Thursday night following a series of endorsements from within the Fine Gael parliamentary party and after a number of senior colleagues said they did not intend to stand for the leadership.

A shortened leadership contest will see him announced as leader in Athlone, Co Westmeath on Sunday afternoon if, as expected, no other candidates enter the contest before nominations close at 1pm.

Fine Gael leadership contest
Simon Harris announced he would run to become Fine Gael leader following Leo Varadkar’s shock resignation (Nick Bradshaw/PA)

Mr Harris would then be expected to be formally elected as taoiseach in the Dail in April following the Easter recess.

He would become the country’s youngest premier at the age of 37.

Mr Harris said that if elected the next leader, he would remain fully committed to the programme for government agreed with coalition partners Fianna Fail and the Green Party.

He has stopped short of ruling out a general election this year but insisted such a poll was not his priority.

Leo Varadkar steps down as Taoiseach
Leo Varadkar announced his resignation as Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach last week (Nick Grimshaw/PA)

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

Aside from Mr Harris, all other senior Fine Gael cabinet ministers have ruled themselves out of contention.

Mr Harris has said he is “overwhelmed and honoured” by the level of support he has secured for his Fine Gael leadership bid.