Ireland’s governing party Fine Gael has elected Leo Varadkar as its new leader, meaning the once-staunchly Catholic country will get its first openly gay prime minister.
The 38-year-old son of an Indian immigrant will also be the youngest-ever person to hold the office, succeeding Enda Kenny, 66, in a striking generational and social change.
Mr Varadkar overcame ministerial colleague Simon Coveney as expected, winning an overwhelming majority of support among the centre-right party’s politicians.
He is expected to be voted in as prime minister when parliament next sits on 13 June.
“If somebody of my age, of my mixed race background and of all the things that make up my character can potentially become leader of our country, then I think that sends out a message to every child born today that there is no office in Ireland that they can’t aspire to,” Mr Varadkar told Newstalk radio this week.
Although he has held three cabinet posts since 2011, Mr Varadkar is relatively inexperienced and was first elected in 2007. With the exception of Mr Kenny, every prime minister since the 1960s either served as finance or foreign minister prior to taking office.
Mr Kenny sat in parliament for 35 years before his elevation. The Castlebar, Co Mayo, native led the party for 15 years and has been at the head of two governments for more than six years. He delayed his resignation on a number of occasions this year.
After six years of his steady stewardship, the focus has been on the stark change of style likely to follow the election of a minister known as a straight talker rather than on his sexuality, despite Ireland’s conservative culture.
Mr Varadkar’s Indian father, Ashok, moved to Ireland in the 1970s. The new premier had not been born when Mr Kenny, 66, was first elected as a member of parliament and comes from the generation hit hardest by Ireland’s economic meltdown. He owned an apartment that fell into negative equity at the turn of the decade.
He will also be a year younger than France’s Emmanuel Macron when he attends his first EU leaders summit later this month. But Mr Varadkar has been quick to point out that the favourite to become Austria’s new prime minister, Sebastian Kurz, is eight years younger.
“He’s a once-in-a-generation politician,” said Fine Gael member of parliament Jim Daly, echoing the comments of most of his colleagues who have placed high hopes in Varadkar.
Additional reporting by agencies
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