38-year-old openly gay Leo Varadkar, the son of an Indian immigrant, has become formally elected Prime Minister (PM) – or Taoiseach – of Ireland.
His election follows the resignation of former PM Enda Kenny and a leadership contest to win the reins of Fine Gael, the ruling party of Ireland.
Varadkar will also be the youngest leader in Irish history and the European Union.
Varadkar joins small list of openly gay world leaders
Many politicians around the world are openly gay. However, currently, including Varadkar, only four heads of state/government are openly gay.
The other three are:
- Prime Minister Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir of Iceland,
- Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo of Belgium,
- Prime Minister Xavier Bettel of Luxembourg.
Varadkar, a former Minister for Health and Social Protection, will steer Ireland during a time when the European Union (EU) recovers from economic turmoil, unemployment, and Brexit.
Being the only EU country with a land border with the United Kingdom, Ireland will face unique challenges in ensuring less transparent borders with Northern Ireland, which is a part of the UK and has historically been a region of conflict.
The first world leader he will call as soon as he takes oath as Prime Minister will reportedly be Theresa May of the UK, to discuss the upcoming Brexit talks to convey condolences over the Grenfell fire that raged in west London.
Another major challenge for the new Irish leader will be growing calls to loosen Ireland’s stringent laws on abortion. Presently, under the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, a foetus has equal citizenship as any adult citizen.
Varadkar is a conservative when it comes to abortion, and pro-choice activists have admonished his track record on women’s rights, saying his election would mean stagnation of Ireland’s mission to liberalise abortion. A change to the country’s abortion laws would mean a change to the eighth amendment, which would mean a national referendum on the issue.
Varadkar has also made history be being the country’s first openly gay PM, something truly appreciable for the Catholic country, which legalised same-sex marriages only in 2015 through a national referendum.
Varadkar’s father hails from Mumbai, India. He met Varadkar’s mother when they were working in an English hospital in the 1960s.
Varadkar will also become the youngest national leader in the EU. He is also one of only three EU leaders who are under 40, with the other two being France’s Emmanuel Macron, 39, and Estonia’s Jüri Ratas, 38.