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Indian-origin gay minister Leo Varadkar set to become Ireland PM

world Updated: Jun 02, 2017 21:10 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Leo Varadkar,openly gay,Ireland Prime Minister

Leo Varadkar, the Indian-origin openly gay minister who is widely tipped to become Ireland’s new prime minister.(Twitter)

Leo Varadkar, the son of a Mumbai-born doctor and Ireland’s first openly gay minister, is widely tipped to become the country’s new prime minister on Friday, giving the Catholic nation its first leader of Asian descent.

If elected by the ruling Fine Gael party, 38-year-old Varadkar will become the youngest person to hold the office and also one of the world’s youngest prime ministers. Varadkar has already built a formidable lead over housing minister Simon Coveney to succeed Enda Kenny, the current Taoiseach (prime minister).

Varadkar is the youngest child of Ashok Varadkar, who met his future wife Miriam, a nurse, while working in Britain’s National Health Service in the 1960s.

He was a practising doctor before joining politics and being elected in 2007. He made news in 2015 when he came out as gay, an announcement that was initially met with some shock by his father but who, he said later, was “very supportive”.

Kenny stepped down this week as leader of the Fine Gael party after six years as the prime minister. Varadkar is reported to enjoy much support in the party and from ministers.

The contest for the next prime minister will be decided on Friday and the result is expected by 10 pm Indian time.

Varadkar’s rise is remarkable in a conservative country that decriminalised homosexuality only in 1993 and did not allow divorce until 1996. Ireland allowed gay marriage by a popular vote in 2015 but still has Europe’s toughest laws against abortion and Varadkar has campaigned for liberalising them.

Talking about the top job, a cautious Varadkar told Sky News: “I’m not counting my chickens. I’m really humbled at the level of support I have received from my colleagues and I am really looking forward to the hustings and the debates.”

Watch| Leo Varadkar’s campaign video on Twitter

Varadkar, who got his start in youth politics while attending medical school in Dublin, also praised Kenny, saying he had “given hope to a battered and bruised Ireland”. Kenny’s dedication and determination gave Fine Gael a landslide in the 2011 general election, he said.

Varadkar 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.

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 others.

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.

First Published: Jun 02, 2017 15:42 IST