Ireland is set to have its first gay prime minister: Leo Varadkar, the son of an Indian immigrant, who won the ruling Fine Gael party’s leadership election Friday.
Varadkar, 38, also would be the Republic of Ireland’s youngest prime minister ever. He won the leadership contest with 60 percent of the votes and replaces Enda Kenny, who has been Ireland’s Taoiseach, or prime minister, since 2011.
Kenny, 66, announced his retirement last month. Varadkar, as the new Fine Gael leader, automatically becomes prime minister-elect, but the party’s choice must be confirmed by the full parliament when it reconvenes June 13.
The Irish parliament must still confirm his nomination when it reconvenes after a break on June 13. Fine Gael leads a minority government with support from the Fianna Fail party.
In addition to his youth and his openly gay profile, Varadkar also would be the first Irish prime minister from an ethnic-minority background.
“If my election as leader of Fine Gael today has shown anything, it is that prejudice has no hold on this republic,” he said to loud applause after his victory was announced in Dublin.
“I know when my father traveled 5,000 miles to build a new home in Ireland, I doubt that he ever dreamed that one day his son would grow up to be its leader. And despite his differences, [that] his son would be judged by his actions, not his identity,” he said.
Varadkar faces many challenges as prime minister, including steering an economy still recovering from the 2008 global financial crisis. He will also have to navigate Brexit, which is set to impact neighboring Ireland more than most European countries due to its close trading links with Britain.
He said he and his center-right party are “ready for the challenges ahead.” He has pledged to increase infrastructure spending and further slash income taxes.
Varadkar is currently the minister for social protection and has earned a reputation as a candid politician. His party hopes that candor will help in the next elections, while opposition parties hope his blunt style will prove a liability to Fine Gael.