Leo Varadkar becomes first openly gay elected Taoiseach of Ireland, succeeds Enda Kenny

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Friday, June 16, 2017

On Wednesday, a Fine Gael party premier candidate and doctor Leo Varadkar was elected Taoiseach — Prime Minister of Ireland — succeeding Enda Kenny, who confirmed his resignation on Tuesday. He becomes the first openly gay Taoiseach in Irish history.

Leo Varadkar in 2016
Image: EU2016 SK.
Enda Kenny in 2015
Image: Department of Health.

In Wednesday's election, 55 members of the Irish parliament Dáil Éireann voted for Varadkar as the 14th Taoiseach, the head of government; 50 against; and 45 abstained.

Also, in Áras an Uachtaráin, the current President of Ireland, head of state, Michael D. Higgins presented Varadkar with the seals of Taoiseach and the Government.

In Wednesday's speech, Varadkar acknowledged his predecessor Kenny for helping to rebuild the country and legalize same-sex marriage.

In May, Kenny, aged 66, announced his retirement as Taoiseach and, after 15 years of service, the leader of Fine Gael. Kenny has served the parliamentary as also Teachta Dála (TD), a member of the parliament, for Mayo since he was elected TD for Mayo West in 1975, succeeding Kenny's late father. On Tuesday, Kenny confirmed his resignation ending his premiership after six years of premiership.

In an election on June 2, Varadkar was elected the Fine Gael premier candidate by 60 percent of the votes. His political opponent Simon Coveney was voted for premiership by 40 percent and lost. Varadkar received the electoral college vote, derived from votes by party members, local representatives and parliamentarians. About 70 percent of Fine Gael parliamentary members favoured Varadkar: 51 of 73, while 22 of 73 favoured Coveney. However, 65 percent of overall party members favoured Coveney.

One week later, on June 9, after Theresa May's Conservative Party won this year's general election in the United Kingdom but lost the majority, Varadkar said the UK election results signified that hard Brexit lacks a "strong mandate", calling this "an opportunity for Ireland." He also said he will negotiate with the UK over Northern Ireland.

Yesterday, Varadkar combined two departments of Finance and of Public Expenditure into one, and appointed new Cabinet ministers, including his rival Coveney as foreign minister.

Leo Eric Varadkar, 38, was born on January 18, 1979 in Dublin, Ireland to his Indian father and Irish mother, a doctor and nurse respectively, who have lived in Ireland since the 1970s, where homosexuality was illegal until the 1990s.

Varadkar, as a 20-year-old Trinity College medical student, campaigned in the 1999 local Mulhuddart election and lost. In 2003, Varadkar became a councilor aged 24 to replace Sheila Terry, who had to resign due to a conflicting parliamentary office.

In 2007, Varadkar was elected TD. While Ireland suffered from ongoing economic crisis, Fine Gael started leading the country in 2011, and Varadkar has since served as minister for social protection; health; and transport, tourism and sport.

In 2015, Varadkar came out as gay in a Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ) interview, months before the country legalised same-sex marriage by referendum under Taoiseach Kenny.

A University College Cork lecturer Theresa Reidy told Reuters, "When you're Taoiseach, you can't speak as open and freely as when you're a maverick, straight-shooting minister. If he [Varadkar] doesn't temper his more colorful contributions, that could actually become a liability quite quickly." Reidy further said he has relatively little experience despite having held three different cabinet posts.

Varadkar's partner is a doctor in Dublin. Varadkar is about a year younger than French President Emmanuel Macron; Macron is 39 years old.


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