Leo Varadkar was elected Irish Prime Minister, making the 38-year-old son of an Indian immigrant the first gay premier of the once-staunchly Catholic country and the youngest person to hold the office. Despite inheriting Europe’s fastest-growing economy, he will face immediate challenges in the shape of neighboring Britain’s exit from the European Union, a political crisis in Northern Ireland and a housing crisis at home.
Varadkar succeeded Enda Kenny earlier this month as leader of the Fine Gael party. Colleagues pinned their hopes of an unprecedented third term on the straight-talking Varadkar, who they believe can widen their appeal in elections that may be triggered as soon as next year.
“Enda Kenny’s leadership enabled me to become an equal citizen in my own country two short years ago and to aspire to hold this office, an aspiration I once thought was beyond my reach, at least if I chose to be myself,” Varadkar said in reference to Ireland’s 2015 vote to legalise gay marriage.
“The government I lead will not be one of left or right. The government I lead will be one of the new European centre as we seek to build a Republic of opportunity, that is a Republic in which every citizen gets a fair go and i n which every part of the country stands to share in our prosperity.”
Varadkar’s elevation marks another chapter in the social change that has swept through the country of 4.6 million people that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and legalized divorce two years later.
“As the country’s youngest holder of this office, he speaks for a new generation of Irish women and Irish men, he represents a modern, diverse and inclusive Ireland and speaks for them like no other,” Kenny told parliament, nominating his successor.“I’ve been elected to lead but I promise to serve.”