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Indian-origin Leo Varadkar Becomes Ireland's Youngest PM

The 38-year-old son of an Indian immigrant is the once-staunchly Catholic country's first gay premier and the youngest person to hold the office.

Reuters

Updated:June 14, 2017, 7:33 PM IST
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Indian-origin Leo Varadkar Becomes Ireland's Youngest PM
Leo Varadkar makes his acceptance speech at the count centre in Dublin, Ireland, (Photo: REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne)
Dublin: Leo Varadkar was elected Irish Prime Minister on Wednesday, making the 38-year-old son of an Indian immigrant the once-staunchly Catholic country's first gay premier and the youngest person to hold the office.

Varadkar, who was nominated in parliament by departing prime minister Enda Kenny, won the votes of the independent lawmakers backing his Fine Gael party's minority government and secured the abstention of main opposition party Fianna Fail.

"As the country's youngest holder of this office, he speaks for a new generation of Irish women and Irish men, he represents a modern, diverse and inclusive Ireland and speaks for them like no other," Kenny told parliament ahead of the vote.

Varadkar officially took over as Taoiseach, as the Irish prime ministerial title is known in Ireland, 10 days after he won a majority of the votes to be declared as the 11th leader of the party on June 2.

"If my election today shows anything, it is that prejudice has no hold in this Republic," Varadkar said to huge applause on June 2 after winning the leadership of the centre-right party.

"I know when my father travelled 5,000 miles to build a new home in Ireland, I doubt that he ever dreamed that one day his son would grow up to be its leader and despite his differences, his son would be judged by his actions not his identity," he had said.

The Dublin-born son of Mumbai-born Ashok Varadkar and Irish mother Miriam, served as Ireland's welfare minister and had emerged as the most popular choice since he announced his candidacy after current leader Enda Kenny stepped down as prime minister earlier this year.

Varadkar went up against housing minister Coveney in the leadership race, who bagged two-thirds of the party membership votes but lost out to the more popular candidate in the end.

The voting for the Fine Gael leadership is decided in an electoral college system that gives the Fine Gael parliamentary party 65 per cent of the vote. The 21,000 rank- and-file members of the party have 25 per cent and 235 local representatives 10 per cent.

The parliamentary party voted for Varadkar, overwhelmingly, as was widely expected.

Varadkar came out as a gay man in 2015, when Ireland became the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage through popular vote.

In a coming-out speech he gave in a radio interview, he had 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 I suppose."

His family originates from Varad, a village in Gujarat, and Leo Varadkar kept his Indian connect alive, completing an internship at the King Edward Memorial Hospital in Mumbai. His partner, Matthew Barrett, is also a doctor.

"Matt is just a very special person. Someone who is unconditionally on my side, which is always great. He is the kind of person who has made me a better person," Varadkar recently said.

The popular minister has campaigned for same-sex marriage and liberalising abortion laws.

He worked as a general practitioner (GP) before winning a seat in Parliament in 2007 and has rapidly risen through the party ranks, holding several ministerial portfolios including minister for social protection and minister for transport, tourism and sports.

Fine Gael is Ireland's centre-right political party, seen as taking liberal positions on several social and economic issues. Varadkar was campaigning on a platform of reducing child poverty and educational disadvantage as key policy areas.
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