In what is being touted as a huge “generational change in Ireland’s political life”, Indian-origin Leo Varadkar won the leadership race for the ruling party and is all set to become the country’s next prime minister making him Ireland’s first openly gay leader. Varadkar, a trained doctor, will be the first Irish leader to have Asian roots as his father is an Indian immigrant born in Mumbai. 38-year-old Varadkar will also be the youngest leader to hold prime ministerial office.
Previously, he was serving as the Minister for Social Protection in Ireland. Irish PM Enda Kenny resigned as head of the governing Fine Gael party, putting Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coveney in the leadership race. The final count had Varadkar winning with 60 per cent votes.
“If my election shows anything it’s that prejudice has no hold in this Republic. When my father travelled 5,000 miles to build a new home in Ireland, I doubt he ever dreamed his son would grow up to be its leader,” he was quoted as saying by PTI.
Varadkar’s father Ashok was born in Mumbai. A doctor by profession, he met Varadkar’s mother Miriam, a nurse, while working in England in the 1970s. The duo married in England, moved to Dublin in Ireland, where Varadkar was later born. Speaking to CNN, Chief Executive of the Ireland-India Council, Prashant Shukla, said it was a proud moment for his father and mother. “This is a proud moment for his father, Dr. Ashok Varadkar and his mother Miriam, to see their son is contesting for the leadership of Fine Gael and ultimately for Taoiseach (prime minister). Over 30,000-strong Irish-Indian community is interestingly looking forward to it.”
However, in the past, Varadkar has taken a controversial stance on immigration suggesting deportation to combat unemployment in Ireland. “Would there be a case at this stage for giving an offer to foreign nationals the opportunity to receive, say, three or four or six months of benefits, if they then agreed to repatriate to their country of origin and then forego benefits beyond that?” he was quoted as saying in 2008.
In 2015, the once-staunchly Catholic country had been preparing for a referendum on legalising gay marriage. During that time, Varadkar reportedly 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,” he said on RTE 1. The country later passed the Marriage Equality Bill, allowing same-sex couples to marry.
According to CNN, Varadakar entered Ireland’s political scenario at 22. He was elected to parliament at 27 and nine years later, he publicly came out as gay. “I honestly don’t think in 1981 when I first got elected that I could foresee a time when an openly gay man might become Taoiseach,” former Fine Gael deputy leader Nora Owen told Reuters. “We have come a long way and the fact that someone like Leo Varadkar, who is an openly gay man, living with his partner, can actually put himself forward for Taoiseach and nobody is batting an eyelid is wonderful and I think it’s a great day for Ireland that we can do that,” he added.