History was made in Ireland yesterday, as the ascendant Fine Gael party elected the country’s first out Prime Minister, or Taoiseach.
Leo Varadkar, who at 38 is also the island nation’s youngest PM, enjoyed broad support among Parliamentary leaders and party officials, government sources noted, and would likely be seated as early as next week.
“If my election as leader of Fine Gael today has shown anything, it is that prejudice has no hold on this republic,” Varadkar, who publicly came out of the closet during the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage, observed exuberantly. The son of an Indian doctor and Irish nurse, Varadkar is a native Dubliner whose minority status reflects the changing electorate in Ireland.
The election was a close one, with opponent Simon Coveney winning the popular Party vote, but Varadkar gaining Electoral College victory among Fine Gael’s legislative leadership. The vote was held to name a replacement for Enda Kenney, who resigned last month, amid a major corruption scandal in his administration.
Varadkar faces immediate challenges upon taking office, chief among them the effects of Brexit, last year’s decision by British voters to leave the European Union.
Ireland is the only EU country that actually borders the UK on land, and Varadkar will have to navigate tough negotiations over Brexit, and its implications for the country’s “Celtic Tiger” economy.
Varadkar was optimistic about forming a government, and addressing the issues. “I’m aware of the enormous challenges ahead. I’m ready for those challenges, as are we as a party,” he said. Parliament returns to session on June 13.