Leo Varadkar, a half-Indian Irishman has become Ireland’s prime minister, succeeding Enda Kenny. Varadkar is the first openly gay prime minister of Ireland
~By Sajeda Momin in London
He is young, smart, extremely intelligent, a doctor by profession, fair, good looking and well-settled. He is every Indian parent’s dream as a “suitable boy” for their unmarried daughter—bar one disqualification—he is gay.
A half-Indian, Irishman, Leo Varadkar has been elected Ireland’s prime minister. Varadkar is Ireland’s first gay prime minister and also the first from an ethnic minority background.
The 38-year-old Varadkar is the son of a Mumbai-born father and an Irish mother. Varadkar, who came out as a homosexual in a dramatic radio interview on the morning of his 36th birthday, said: “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 a part of who I am, it doesn’t define me, it is part of my character I suppose.” He eventually became the first openly gay cabinet member in Ireland.
Born on January 18, 1979, in the suburbs of Dublin, Leo is the youngest child and only son of Ashok Varadkar, a doctor from Mumbai and Miriam, an Irish nurse. In a typical doctor-nurse love story, Ashok and Miriam met in Slough, in north London in the 1960s when they were both working in the National Health Service of Britain. They married and moved to Leicester in central England where the eldest of their children, Sophie, was born. The couple and their newborn moved to India for a while but didn’t feel comfortable and so returned and settled in Dublin in 1973 before the birth of their second daughter, Sonia.
A bright student, Varadkar was educated at St Francis Xavier National School, Blanchardstown, and then at the private fee-paying King’s Hospital School in Palmerstown, which operated under the Church of Ireland. He was admitted to Trinity College, Dublin, to study law, which he did briefly before switching to medicine. He graduated in 2003 and spent several years working as a junior doctor before qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010.
However, he was always interested in politics and joined Fine Gael when he was a teenager. While at Trinity College, he was active in Young Fine Gael and served as vice-president of the Youth of the European People’s Party, the youth wing of the Christian Democrat group. Varadkar was only 20-years-old when he contested his first local elections and lost. But that did not deter him and finally in 2007, he was elected to Dail Eireann, Ireland’s Lower House of parliament and since then, has won two more general elections.
In 2007, he was made the party spokesperson for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, and in 2011, made minister for transport, tourism and sports when Fine Gael formed a coalition government with the Labour party. In a cabinet reshuffle in 2014, Varadkar was given the health portfolio, which he held till 2016. After the general election of 2016, he was made minister for social protection by Prime Minister Enda Kenny, with whom he enjoyed a really good rapport.
Varadkar is considered a straight-talker who sometimes doesn’t think before he speaks. “Leo shoots straight because he is not capable of doing anything else. It’s how he’s made,” said a party colleague. “He has a huge IQ, he’s very smart and he’s genuinely sincere, and he’s probably one of the few politicians I know who doesn’t really have an ego. He has a real innocence about him. You might even say he’s a bit childlike. You want to mind him,” says another colleague.
As a politician Varadkar is to the right of centre. Fine Gael is supported by wealthy farmers, business people and professionals. While he rejects the label of right-wing, he has admitted in the past that if he lived in Britain, he would be Tory. Ironically, in 2008, Varadkar ran into trouble after arguing for the deportation of unemployed immigrants. “Would there be a case at this stage for giving an offer to foreign nationals the opportunity to receive, say, three or four or six months of benefits, if they then agreed to repatriate to their country of origin and then forego benefits beyond that?” he had asked.
A NEW ERA
Of his family, he accepts that his father Ashok was shocked when he first told him he was gay, but was later “very supportive”. As for his mother, she was initially concerned that he would be beaten up on the street or lose his seat in parliament, but ultimately just wanted him to be happy.
Ireland is the fourth country to ever have an openly gay head of government. Iceland’s Johanna Sigurdardottir, Belgium’s Elio Di Rupo and Luxembourg’s Xavier Bettel are the only other homosexuals to lead a government.