Saturday

23rd Mar 2019

Gay, under-40 politican to rule Ireland

  • "Any child who looks at me and my unlikely story realises that there’s no office they can’t enter," said Leo Varadkar. (Photo: International Transport Forum)

Ireland is on course to elect its first gay prime minister (Taoiseach) after Leo Varadkar won a leadership battle in the ruling Fine Gael party.

Varadkar won the contest to succeed the current party leader and prime minister Enda Kenny, with 59.7 percent against 40.3 percent for his rival, housing minister Simon Coveney.

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While Varadkar took the Electoral College, composed of Fine Gael parliamentarians, the vast majority of the party's "ordinary" members voted for Coveney, reflecting the conservative nature of Fine Gael's grass roots.

A vote in Irish parliament to confer upon Varadkar as Taoiseach-elect is likely to take place on Tuesday week.

Speaking at his first press conference on Friday, Varadkar told journalists the fact that he will become Taoiseach of Ireland is “surreal.”

“Ireland is a wonderful country,” he said, adding he hopes “any child who looks at me and my unlikely story realises that there’s no office they can’t enter”.

Varadkar, 38, came out as Ireland’s first openly gay cabinet minister in January 2015. He did so five months before Ireland became the first country in the world to vote for same-sex marriage in a referendum.

Varadkar, whose father is an Indian immigrant and mother is Irish, is a general practician by profession. His father was also a doctor and his mother a nurse. His partner Matt, to whom he has referred to in the past as his “rock” is a doctor.

In his acceptance speech he said he was taking on the role of Taoiseach-elect with “humility.” He said Ireland was a country that people could look to for hope, and said “little did” his father know “when he travelled the 5,000 miles from India to Ireland that one day he’d have a son that would become its leader.”

He said he was grateful that in Ireland he could be “judged by his character” and not his “origins and identity.”

Varadkar said that one of his main priorities was the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

He said he does not believe Britain should be “punished” for its decision to leave the EU and he reiterated Ireland’s committed position as a member of the EU 27.

He said he hoped a free trade deal and a reciprocal arrangement for EU citizens in the UK results in the talks.

He added that a “hard Brexit is one in which Ireland could be a big loser” because of Ireland’s firm economic, historical and political links with the UK.

Varadkar told EUobserver US leader Donald Trump’s decision to leave the Paris Accord was “disappointing” and said he "joins" with other European political leaders to say the accord is “not open to renegotiation.”

“We all breathe the same air and are affected by the climate,” he added. He pointed out that as one of the world’s biggest polluters, “America has an extra responsibility” to lead on this matter.

It is very likely that current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, voted for Leo Varadkar as did political heavyweight and finance minister Michael Noonan.

Fine Gael is a member of the EPP, and is a centre-right party in its second term in government since 2011. It is rooted in the foundation of the state and is the party that emanated through the Irish revolutionary hero Michael Collins.

Analysis

So what if the Irish PM is gay?

Taoiseach's sexual orientation has grabbed headlines, but history shows that gay politicians seldom promote LGBT rights.

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