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Openly gay minister of Indian origin could be Ireland’s next PM

Leo Varadkar, an openly gay minister of Indian origin, has emerged as a frontrunner in the race to be Ireland’s next prime minister.

world Updated: Feb 23, 2017 00:30 IST
HT Correspondent
Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s openly gay social protection minister, is being seen as a frontrunner in the race to replace Prime Minister Enda Kenny.(Twitter)

Leo Varadkar, an openly gay Irish minister of Indian-origin, is being widely tipped as the frontrunner in the race to become Ireland’s next prime minister.

Varadkar, 38, is a leader of the Fine Gael political party and the social protection minister. Born in Dublin, he is the son of a retired Indian doctor and an Irish mother.

A new poll earlier this week said the people of Ireland would prefer Varadkar over housing minister Simon Coveney to be the next leader of Fine Gael, The Journal news website reported. Coveney was backed by 23% of respondents in the poll by Claire Byrne Live while Varadkar received support from 35%.

Varadkar is also a favourite with online bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair, which is offering odds of 4/11 that he will be the next prime minister.

Reports have suggested Prime Minister Enda Kenny could step down after a visit to the US to meet President Donald Trump on March 17. Kenny has been facing criticism for his handling of a controversy within the Irish police force after an officer alleged that influential people were not prosecuted despite being charged with various offences.

Media reports said the elevation of Varadkar would mark a major social change for Ireland, which was among the last European Union members to decriminalise homosexuality. The country voted to recognise same-sex marriages in 2015.

Varadkar, a qualified doctor, is in a relationship with Matthew Barrett, also a doctor. Ireland’s Independent newspaper described Barrett as “the rock behind Leo Varadkar as he strives to become leader of Fine Gael”.

“Although the pair have been an item for the last 18 months, they have so far shunned the spotlight – although that could change should Mr Varadkar become Taoiseach (prime minister),” the report said.

The couple have “holidayed together, met each other’s families and even shared a joint birthday bash”.

If Varadkar becomes prime minister, Ireland will be only the fourth country to have an openly gay head of government. Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo, Iceland’s Johanna Siguroardottir and Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel are the other openly gay heads of government.

Varadkar came out during an interview with Irish national radio on his 36th birthday in January 2015. “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.