June 3 (UPI) — Leo Varadkar will become the Republic of Ireland’s next taoiseach, or prime minister, after being named the new leader of the Fine Gael party.
Varadkar, the 38-year-old center right politician, is the son of an Irish nurse and a doctor from India and came out in 2015. He will be Ireland’s first openly gay and youngest prime minister and the first leader from an ethnic minority background.
“If my election shows anything it’s that prejudice has no hold in this Republic,” Varadkar said. “Any child growing up in Ireland now, I hope, looks at me and my unlikely story and my background, and everything about me, and perhaps says to themselves, that there is no office in this state that I can’t aspire to, nothing that they can’t do if they believe in themselves.”
Varadkar won 60 percent of the vote in order to defeat his rival Housing Minister Simon Coveney.
He will succeed Enda Kenny, who resigned in May, as leader of the largest party in Ireland’s coalition government and is expected to contact Coveney to discuss what government position he will hold.
Kenny offered Varadkar his full support and commended Coveney for a strong campaign, which drew support from grassroots members of the party.
“This is a tremendous honor for him and I know he will devote his life to improving the lives of people across our country,” he said of Varadkar. “I want to also thank and pay tribute to Simon Coveney for making the leadership election a real contest. This has been a wonderful exercise in democracy for the Fine Gael party.”
Varadkar, who became known for his economic policies as a champion “of those who get up early in the morning,” said his primary focus would be on handling Brexit and restoring devolution in Northern Ireland.
“Northern Ireland will leave the European Union with the United Kingdom, but we do think there should be special arrangements for Northern Ireland. It is a special place and we would like to work with the new executive when it is formed to define what that is” he said. “But particularly, what we’d like to see is there to remain as close a relationship as possible between the north and south of Ireland and an invisible or non-existent economic border in particular and Northern Ireland remaining in as many EU programmes as possible.”