Monday, 18 February, 2019

Ireland's governing Fine Gael elects Leo Varadkar as new leader

Nellie Chapman | 03 June, 2017, 02:45

Leo Varadkar will be Ireland's youngest leader, as well as the first to be openly gay and from an ethnic-minority background.

"Ireland is no longer the socially conservative, church-ridden country that many overseas had assumed", Irish political commentator Noel Whelan told VICE News.

The openly gay politician and son of an Indian immigrant was 27 when he was elected to Irish parliament.

Leo Varadkar is set to become Ireland's next Taoiseach after his colleagues at Fine Gael voted for him to become the new leader of the majority government party.

But there are limits to the country's newfound tolerance, and early in his campaign for the party leadership Varadkar said he hoped his sexuality would not be an issue. While Coveney appeals to the party's more conservative membership outside of the capital city, many see Varadkar as a fresh face for urban voters while still appealing to the party's rural base.

Varadkar secured 60 percent of the total weighted vote in the contest while his only rival Simon Coveney, minister for housing, planning, community and local government, only took 40 percent.

He had been under sustained pressure within his own ranks to allow a successor to be elected so the party is prepared for the next general election. It's just part of who I am, it doesn't define me. "It's just part of who I am, it doesn't define me, it is part of my character I suppose", he said on RTE 1.

It's nearly precisely the fact that Varadkar is a gay man and the child of an immigrant that allows him to be such an out and proud classical liberal on other questions.

Homosexuality was not legalised in Ireland until 1993, but the public have since publicly backed same-sex marriage. The bill was passed later that year. During that time, Varadkar reportedly came out publicly on Irish national radio.

He said: "It's not a big deal for me any more". For these people, Varadkar's sexuality is a non-issue, and he will be assessed exclusively on how good a politician he really is.

She said that although he has held three cabinet post since 2011, Varadkar is relatively inexperienced.

His confirmation as Taoiseach - Ireland's prime minister - would come when the lower house of parliament resumes after a break on June 13.

"For people of my generation, there were no role models at all".

Voting to replace Enda Kenny finishes at noon on Friday in Dublin, with a result due in the late afternoon.

Among Mr Kenny's final official overseas engagements will be a two-day trade mission to Chicago next week and the centenary commemoration of the start of the Battle of Messines in the First World War where soldiers from all over Ireland fought together.