Ireland has just created history. It has chosen Leo Varadkar, a 38-year-old gay doctor and son of an Indian immigrant to succeed Enda Kenny as prime minister after he was voted leader of the country’s main governing party.
Leo Varadkar’s victory in the Fine Gael leadership contest on Friday, which took place after outgoing PM Enda Kenny announced his resignation last month, marks another significant step forward for equality in the country, after 2015’s gay marriage referendum.
Varadkar is expected to be voted in as prime minister when parliament next sits on June 13 and become the once-staunchly Catholic country’s first openly gay premier and the youngest person ever to hold the office.
He said this week: “If somebody of my age, of my mixed race background and of all the things that make up my character can potentially become leader of our country, then I think that sends out a message to every child born today that there is no office in Ireland that they can’t aspire to.”
Varadkar, a doctor educated at Trinity College Dublin, entered Irish politics in 2004, when he polled almost 5,000 votes in a local government election in the Dublin West constituency. Three years later, he was elected to represent the area in parliament.
In 2014, he became Ireland’s minister for health and, after Fine Gael suffered losses in last year’s general election, he entered a minority coalition as minister for social protection.
On his 36th birthday in January 2015 during an interview on Ireland’s RTÉ Radio, Mr Varadkar spoke publicly for the first time about being gay.
He said: “It’s not something that defines me. I’m not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician or a gay politician for that matter. It’s just part of who I am, it doesn’t define me, it is part of my character.”
The announcement made him the first openly gay cabinet member in Ireland.