Ireland’s next prime minister is a conservative, gay 38-year-old

Leo Varadkar, then Minister for Health, at the Dublin Gay pride parade in 2015.

 

Gay son of Indian immigrant likely to be Ireland’s next leader

Ireland is to get its youngest prime minister, and the first who is openly gay.

Leo Varadkar, the 38-year-old Minister for Social Protection, was elected leader of the ruling Fine Gael party on Friday. He will be confirmed as Taoiseach, or prime minister, when the Irish parliament reconvenes on June 13.

He was 22 when he entered Irish politics. At 27, he was elected to parliament. At 36, he publicly came out as gay. And now, at 38, Leo Varadkar, the son of an Indian immigrant father and an Irish mother, appears on course to become Ireland’s next prime minister.

The young Dubliner, currently serving as Ireland’s Minister for Social Protection, announced his campaign to succeed Taoiseach Enda Kenny, prime minister since 2011 and leader of the ruling Fine Gael party since 2002, shortly after Kenny announced he would be stepping down earlier this month.
Varadkar’s only opponent is Housing Minister Simon Coveney, who hails from a family of Fine Gael stalwarts. 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 has managed to shore up the support of many of his fellow Fine Gael parliamentary members, whose say counts for 65% of the final vote; the party members and local politicians make up the other 35%. A decision is expected by June 2.
Although Varadkar appears to be a step away from traditional Irish politics, a check of his voting record and of his campaign, promises more of a makeover than an overhaul.

‘I’m not a half-Indian politician… or a gay politician’

As Ireland prepared to cast a historic vote that legalized same sex marriage in 2015, Varadkar came out publicly on Irish national radio.
“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 I suppose,” the fiercely private politician said speaking on RTE 1.
Although Varadkar has tried to steer attention away from his sexuality to his politics, for a country that is increasingly trying to focus on a more liberal European identity and shake off the hangover of religious involvement in politics, a coming-out speech like Varadkar’s, whatever its tone, is still ground-breaking.
Homosexuality was only decriminalized in Ireland in 1993. In 2015, Ireland passed the Marriage Equality Bill, allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Senator David Norris, 73, the first Irish politician to publicly come out as gay told CNN that he understands why Varadkar wants to focus on policies and not his personal life. Speaking of his own experience, Norris said, “I never made a big deal out of it, because I didn’t want to be treated as a ‘freak’. I didn’t want to be stuck just with issues of sexuality.”
“What Varadkar does in bed is irrelevant,” Norris said. But he also noted that if Varadkar becomes Ireland’s next prime minister or taoiseach, it would signal another stride forward for equality rights in Ireland.
“For people of my generation, there were no role models at all. Now to be able to have a young, able, good-looking gay man as prime minister of the country, it says to young people, ‘you can be anything you want, your sexuality doesn’t matter,'” he said.
If elected, Varadkar would be one of two openly gay heads of state currently in office — Luxembourg’s prime minister Xavier Bettel being the other. In the past, two other world leaders went public with their sexuality: Former Belgian Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo and former Icelandic Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurõardóttir

Filed in: EVENTS, EVS & Erasmus

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