Leo Varadkar: Meet the man who will lead Fine Gael

By Daniel McConnell, Political Editor of the Irish Examiner

Addressing the huge crowd in Dublin's Mansion House Round Room having just been elected leader of Fine Gael, Leo Varadkar said his victory shows the world that prejudice holds no place in Ireland in 2017.

Varadkar is now set to become Ireland's youngest ever Taoiseach, having beaten Simon Coveney.

All the international focus has been on the fact that the once Catholic dominated country is about to be led by a half-Indian, openly gay Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar's decision to reveal his sexuality in early 2015 was a true watershed moment in Irish politics, as his leadership ambitions have been long known.

But his election which will see him elevated to the highest political office in the land is truly significant.

He has won the race for the leadership of Fine Gael by a margin of 60% to 40%.

However, his heavy defeat among the grass roots members will overshadow the result somewhat.

Coveney won that division of the electoral college by a two to one margin.

Speaking after he won, Mr Varadkar said his victory showed the world that prejudice holds no place in Ireland.

Mr Varadkar was born on 18 January 1979 in Dublin.

He is the son of Ashok - a doctor from Mumbai - who met his mother Miriam, an Irish nurse, while they were both working in Slough.

They eventually settled in Ireland in the 1970s.

Mr Varadkar followed his father into medicine and attended Trinity College Dublin where he joined Young Fine Gael.

Aged just 20 he ran unsuccessfully for the party in the local elections in 1999.

Having learned many lessons, he became a councillor aged 24, topping the poll.

He made a name for himaelf as he would often attend council meetings in his medical scrubs.

He was first elected to the Dail in 2007 and earned a reputation of being a no nonsense straight talker.

As the Irish economy crashed, he emerged as one of the true leading lights of the 30th Dail.

He was a leading member of the botched heave against Enda Kenny in 2010, but one comment he made about his leader lingered long after the contest was over.

"I have had to ask myself that key question, the 3 am. question, if we are in government and there is a national crisis, if there is a sovereign debt crisis for example and [then Governor of the Central Bank] Patrick Honohan rings the Taoiseach – who do I want to answer that phone, I want Richard Bruton to answer that... The people are saying to us they don’t have confidence in Enda Kenny."

Kenny survived the challenge and eight months later found himself in office as Taoiseach heading up a coalition of Fine Gael and Labour, which commanded the largest majority in the history of the state.

Despite his opposition of Kenny, the Taoiseach appointed Mr Varadkar minister for transport, tourism and sport.

Mr Varadkar in 2014 broke ranks with his Cabinet colleagues in the midst of the Garda whistleblower crisis when he disputed comments made by then Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan that the actions of said whistleblowers were “disgusting”.

Following the 2014 Local and European elections, Kenny moved Varadkar to the challenging brief of health where his record at best was mixed.

But then, he came out as gay in an interview with broadcaster Miriam O'Callaghan on her Sunday Morning show.

He said: "It's not a big deal for me any more. I hope it's not a big deal for anyone else - it shouldn't be."

A few months later, Ireland voted in a referendum to legalise same-sex marriage.

When Kenny announced his retirement as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader, Mr Varadkar and his team of supporters launched a "shock-and-awe" strategy which saw most of the party's parliamentarians endorse him within the first 48 hours to some controversy.

He caused further controversy when he argued that Fine Gael should represent those "who got up early in the morning".

He later sought to clarify his message to say he was talking about "people working in the public and private sector, the self-employed, carers getting up to mind loved ones, parents getting up to mind children".

But he has cast himself and certainly Fine Gael's political enemies like Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger have tried to portray him as a right-wing ideologue - pointing to a recent campaign against benefits cheats.

When Mr Varadkar is officially installed as Taoiseach, possibly as early as Tuesday week – June 13 - he will be, at 38, the country's youngest ever Taoiseach.


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