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Challenges facing the new Taoiseach

Simon Harris has promised to focus on Fine Gael’s core values, pledging to help small businesses and tackle crime.

But issues such as housing, immigration and climate action are also likely to loom large on his ‘to-do’ list during his tenure as Taoiseach.

The new Taoiseach will no-doubt hope to boost his party’s appeal too, ahead of upcoming elections.

Increasing party support

Dr Kevin Cunningham, pollster with Ireland Thinks and lecturer in Politics at Technological University Dublin, says that Fine Gael is currently placing at around 21% in opinion polls.

“If they want to be a larger party, it necessitates that they will need to broaden their support among a whole range of political issues including immigration, but also housing and healthcare.”

In relation to immigration, however, Dr Cunningham points out that some parties in Europe have shifted towards the right but have failed to win back support.

He adds that talk within Fine Gael around “getting back to basics”, would likely only shore-up the support it already has, adding that data suggests only around 5% of people are concerned with law and order. Therefore being “tough on crime” might not be a major vote winner.

Simon Harris addressing the Fine Gael Ard Fheis in Athlone

Supporting Small Business

Simon Harris has also pin-pointed support for small businesses as a key priority.

Representative groups warn their members are in serious difficulty.

Neil McDonnell, of the Irish SME Association (ISME) insists that “nobody is crying wolf” and that many businesses are faced with closure due to rising costs placed upon them by the Government, such as increases to the minimum wage.

“In the immediate term we will need to see something done about PRSI, the full extent of the adjustment to the minimum wage kicks in at the higher rate of employers PRSI of 11.05%”.

He also calls for a 9% VAT rate for the food-based hospitality sector, along with grooming and experiential sectors.

Mr Harris has ruled out a mini-budget but has indicated that there are other ways to help struggling businesses.

The Finance portfolio is held by Fianna Fáil, so any significant changes would require the support of the other two coalition partners.

Housing & Accommodation Shortage

The housing crisis will continue to loom large on the new Taoiseach’s agenda.

Simon Harris has pledged to deliver 250,000 homes between 2025 and 2030.

However, the Government will be forced to call a General Election in the early part of 2025, so Mr Harris will not have to live up to that pledge during this Dáil term.

Some argue that there are short-term measures that Simon Harris could focus on, which would show initiative both on the housing and immigration front.

By 2030, Simon Harris has pledged the delivery of 250,000 new homes

Mel Reynolds, an architect and policy analyst, believes the old Royal City of Dublin Hospital on Baggot Street in Dublin should be converted into emergency accommodation for homeless people or refugees.

The HSE owned building has been empty for an extended period of time.

“This could take between 400 to 500 people as a hostel, and we also know that just around the corner here there are people in tents. So, it beggars belief that this building has fallen between a number of different ministerial stools. As an example of a short-term project where we could see real progress and real leadership, this is one that the Taoiseach could get the heft of his department behind,” he says.

Climate Change

The world is no longer in an era of global warning, but global boiling according to the UN Secretary General.

Despite some push back against climate policy, polls show climate change is still a concern for voters.

Professor in Sustainable Energy and Energy Systems Modelling at University College Cork, Hannah Daly, is critical of Simon Harris for not prioritising climate change in his address to Fine Gael members at the party’s Ard Fheis on Saturday.

“While he has said that he is absolutely committed to addressing the climate emergency, he has not outlined his vision for what that means. This kind of commitment requires actions that transform Ireland’s energy, agriculture and transport systems and indeed the current economic model,” she says.

Young people take part in a climate change protest outside Leinster House

Professor Daly believes that real climate action will require vested interests to be challenged.

Legacy is important to politicians, and Professor Daly warns that Simon Harris’ legacy will be determined by his progress on climate action.

Televised coverage of the Taoiseach’s election in the Dáil begins on RTÉ One and the RTÉ News Channel at 10.20am

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