Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

TD
Leo Varadkar 2016.jpg
14th Taoiseach
Assumed office
14 June 2017
President Michael D. Higgins
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
Simon Coveney
Preceded by Enda Kenny
Leader of Fine Gael
Assumed office
2 June 2017
Deputy Simon Coveney
Preceded by Enda Kenny
Minister for Defence
Assumed office
14 June 2017
Taoiseach Himself
Preceded by Enda Kenny
Minister for Business
Enterprise and Innovation

(Acting)
In office
28 – 30 November 2017
Taoiseach Himself
Preceded by Frances Fitzgerald
Succeeded by Heather Humphreys
Minister for Social Protection
In office
6 May 2016 – 14 June 2017
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by Joan Burton
Succeeded by Regina Doherty
Minister for Health
In office
11 July 2014 – 6 May 2016
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by James Reilly
Succeeded by Simon Harris
Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport
In office
9 March 2011 – 11 July 2014
Taoiseach Enda Kenny
Preceded by Pat Carey (Transport)
Succeeded by Paschal Donohoe
Teachta Dála
Assumed office
June 2007
Constituency Dublin West
Personal details
Born
Leo Eric Varadkar

(1979-01-18) 18 January 1979 (age 40)
Castleknock, Dublin, Ireland
Nationality Irish
Political party Fine Gael
Domestic partner Matthew Barrett (2015–present)
Parents
  • Ashok Varadkar
  • Miriam Varadkar
Education The King's Hospital
Alma mater Trinity College Dublin
Website Official website
Constituency website

Leo Eric Varadkar (/vəˈrædkər/ və-RAD-kər; born 18 January 1979) is an Irish politician who has served as Taoiseach, Minister for Defence and Leader of Fine Gael since June 2017. He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency since 2007. He previously served as Minister for Social Protection from 2016 to 2017, Minister for Health from 2014 to 2016 and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport from 2011 to 2014.[1]

He was 38 years old on his election as Taoiseach, becoming the youngest person to hold the office.[2] During the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, he came out as gay – the first Irish government minister to do so.[3] He is Ireland's first, and the world's fourth, openly gay head of government in modern times.[4] He is also the first Irish government leader of Indian heritage.

Varadkar was born in Dublin and studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin. He spent several years as a non-consultant hospital doctor before qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010. In 2004, he was co-opted onto Fingal County Council and served as deputy mayor, before his election to Dáil Éireann in 2007.

Early life

Born on 18 January 1979, in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Varadkar is the third child and only son of Ashok and Miriam (née Howell) Varadkar. His father was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and moved to the United Kingdom in the 1960s, to work as a doctor.[5] His mother, born in Dungarvan, County Waterford, met her future husband while working as a nurse in Slough.[6] They married in the UK, early in 1971,[7] then lived in Leicester, where the eldest of their three children, Sophie, was born. The family moved to India, before settling in Dublin in 1973, where their second child, Sonia, was born.

Varadkar's parents agreed to raise their son, born to a Hindu father and a Catholic mother, in the Catholic faith.[8] He was educated at the St. Francis Xavier National School, Blanchardstown. His secondary-level education took place at The King's Hospital in Palmerstown, a boarding school run by the Church of Ireland.

During his secondary schooling, he joined Young Fine Gael. He was admitted to Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he briefly studied law. He later switched to medicine. At TCD, he was active in the university's Young Fine Gael branch and served as Vice-President of the Youth of the European People's Party, the youth wing of the European People's Party, of which Fine Gael is a member.[9] Varadkar was selected for the Washington Ireland Program for Service and Leadership (WIP), a prestigious half-year personal and professional development program in Washington, D.C. for students from Ireland. [10]

He graduated from the School of Medicine (Trinity College, Dublin) in 2003, after he completed his Internship at KEM Hospital in Mumbai.[11] He then spent several years working as a junior doctor in St. James's Hospital and Connolly Hospital, before qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010.[12]

Personal life

Varadkar is the first Irish government leader of Indian origin and has visited the country on a number of occasions. He completed his medical internship at KEM Hospital in his father's childhood city of Mumbai.

During an interview on RTÉ Radio on 18 January 2015 (his 36th birthday), Varadkar spoke publicly for the first time about being gay: "it's not something that defines me. I'm not a half-Indian politician, or a doctor politician or a gay politician for that matter. It's just part of who I am, it doesn't define me, it is part of my character I suppose".[13] Varadkar was a prominent advocate of the same-sex marriage referendum.[14][15] His partner, Matthew Barrett, is a doctor at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.[16][17]

Political career

Fingal County Council (2003–2007)

Varadkar was twenty years old and a second-year medical student when he unsuccessfully contested the 1999 local elections in the Mulhuddart area. Varadkar was co-opted to Fingal County Council in 2003, for the Castleknock area, as a replacement for Sheila Terry. At the 2004 local elections, he received the highest first-preference vote in the country with 4,894 votes and was elected on the first count.[18]

Dáil Éireann (2007–present)

Varadkar was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 2007 general election.[19] Then Leader of the Opposition Enda Kenny appointed him to the Front Bench as Spokesperson for Enterprise, Trade and Employment until a 2010 reshuffle, when he became Spokesperson on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.[20] At the 2011 general election, Varadkar was re-elected to Dáil Éireann, with 8,359 first-preference votes (a 19.7% share of the poll in a 4-seat constituency).[18]

When Fine Gael formed a coalition government with the Labour Party, Varadkar was appointed Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport on 9 March 2011.[21] This was considered a surprise appointment, as Varadkar was not known as a sports lover. He said that while he knew "a lot of facts...I don't play the sports."[22]

In May 2011, Varadkar suggested Ireland was "very unlikely" to resume borrowing in 2012 and might need a second bailout, causing jitters on international markets about Ireland's credibility.[23][24] Many of his cabinet colleagues frowned on Varadkar's forthrightness, as did the European Central Bank.[25][26] Taoiseach Enda Kenny repeated the line of the Government of Ireland, that the State would not require a further EU-IMF bailout, and said he had warned all Ministers against publicly disparaging the economy.[27][28] Varadkar said that reaction to the story was hyped up but that he was not misquoted.[29] The Evening Herald has repeatedly described the minister as gaffe prone.[30][31]

Varadkar at the opening of a unit at Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, July 2014

In the cabinet reshuffle of July 2014, Varadkar replaced James Reilly as Minister for Health.[32][33]

He was returned to the Dáil at the 2016 general election. He retained the health portfolio in an acting capacity until May that year, due to the delay in government formation. In one of his final acts as Minister for Health, Varadkar cut €12 million from the €35 million allocated to that year's budget for mental health care, telling the Dáil that the cuts were "necessary as the funding could be better used elsewhere."[34]

On 6 May 2016, after government formation talks had concluded, Enda Kenny appointed Varadkar as Minister for Social Protection.[35] During his time in the Ministry, he launched a campaign against welfare fraud.[36]

14th Taoiseach

2017

On 2 June 2017, Varadkar was elected leader of Fine Gael, defeating Simon Coveney.[37] Although Coveney had the support of more Fine Gael members than Varadkar, the electoral college system more strongly weighted the votes of the party's parliamentarians, with these strongly backing Varadkar.[38]

Like Enda Kenny, Varadkar relied upon the support of Independents and the abstention of Fianna Fáil TDs to support his premiership. On 14 June 2017, he was appointed Taoiseach in a 57–50 vote with 47 abstentions.[39] He became Ireland's first openly gay Taoiseach, as well as the youngest.[nb 1] He is not, however, the youngest head of an Irish government; both Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins were younger on assuming their respective offices prior to the establishment of the current Irish Republic. He is also the first head of government who is of half-Indian descent.[40] It was also the first time that one Fine Gael Taoiseach was succeeded by another.[nb 2]

One of Varadkar's first acts as Taoiseach was to announce a referendum on abortion for 2018. He said that the government would lay out a road map for how to achieve a low carbon economy.[41]

His government nearly collapsed as a result of the Garda whistleblower scandal and Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Frances Fitzgerald's role in it. Fianna Fáil, who were in a confidence-and-supply agreement with Fine Gael, threatened a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste. This action would have collapsed the government and caused a general election. Despite days of gridlock, the crisis was averted, after Fitzgerald resigned from the cabinet to prevent the election, which most of the country did not want due to the possibility of it jeopardising the Irish position in Brexit negotiations. Shortly after this, Varadkar appointed former leadership rival and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney as Tánaiste, Heather Humphreys as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Josepha Madigan as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in a small reshuffle of the cabinet.

Shortly after the Fitzgerald crisis, an impasse was reached in the Brexit talks, as leader of the DUP Arlene Foster objected to a deal agreed to by Varadkar, PM Theresa May and President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker.[citation needed] This prevented an agreement from being reached as the deadline approached. Varadkar stated he was 'surprised' and 'disappointed' the UK couldn't reach a deal. However, later in the week a consensus deal was finalised. Varadkar stated he had received guarantees from the UK there would be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. He later said he and his cabinet had 'achieved all we set out to achieve' during the talks before quoting former British PM Winston Churchill by saying 'This is not the end, this is the end of the beginning". An Irish Times poll taken during these days showed Varadkar with a 53% approval rating, the highest for any Taoiseach since 2011, and showed Fine Gael with an eleven-point lead over Fianna Fáil. Government satisfaction was also at 41%, the highest in almost 10 years.[42] Irish Times columnist Pat Leahy claimed Varadkar had ended 2017 'on a high' and IrishCentral called it the Taoiseach's 'finest hour'.[43][44]

2018

In January 2018, his approval reached 60%, a ten-year high for any Taoiseach.[45]

In January 2018, he announced that the referendum to repeal Ireland's 8th Amendment which prevented any liberalisation of restrictive abortion laws would take place in May. If passed, it would allow the government to introduce new legislation. It was proposed that women would be allowed unrestricted access to abortion up until 12 weeks, with exceptions if the mother's life is in danger up until six months. Varadkar said he would campaign for liberalising the laws, saying his mind was changed by difficult cases during his tenure as Minister for Health.[46] The referendum was passed by a 2:1 majority.

2019

On 24 January 2019, Varadkar said in an interview with EuroNews he was standing firm on the Irish backstop and called Brexit an act of self-harm that was not fully thought through. He also said the technology promised by the Brexiteers to solve the Northern Ireland border issue "doesn't yet exist".[47]

See also