Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar 

Leo Varadkar
Leo Varadkar closeup portrait
Assumed office
14 June 2017
President Michael D. Higgins
Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald
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
Preceded by Enda Kenny
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 38)
Dublin, Ireland
Political party Fine Gael
Domestic partner Matthew Barrett
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin
Website Official website
Constituency website

Leo Eric Varadkar (English pronunciation: /ˈliːɔʊ vəˈrædkər/; Irish: Leo de Varad pronounced [ lʲo: dʲɛ warad]) is an Irish Fine Gael politician who has served as Taoiseach, Minister for Defence and Leader of Fine Gael since June 2017. He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) since 2007, currently for the Dublin West constituency. 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.

Following the retirement of Enda Kenny, he was elected as Leader of the Fine Gael Party on 2 June 2017. On 14 June, he was nominated as Taoiseach by Dáil Éireann and this nomination was approved by the President of Ireland.

Youngest person to hold the office

During the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum he became the first openly gay Irish government minister and is the first minister of Indian heritage. Upon his election as taoiseach Varadkar, aged 38, became the youngest person to hold the office, as well as the first person from a minority ethnic background to do so. He is also Ireland’s first and the world’s fourth openly gay head of government in modern times (following Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, Elio Di Rupo and Xavier Bettel).

Varadkar was born in Dublin and studied Medicine at Trinity College, Dublin. He spent several years as a junior 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. He was promoted to the Front Bench by Enda Kenny as Spokesperson on Enterprise, Trade and Employment, remaining in this position until a 2010 reshuffle when he became Spokesperson on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

Early life of Leo Varadkar

Born on 18 January 1979 in the Rotunda Hospital in Parnell Square, Dublin, Leo Varadkar is the third child and only son of Ashok Varadkar and Miriam (née Howell). His father was born in Bombay, India, and moved to England in the 1960s to work as a doctor. His mother, born in Dungarvan, met her future husband while working as a nurse in Slough. They lived together 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.

Born to a Hindu father and Catholic mother, Varadkar’s parents agreed to raise him in the Catholic faith. Leo Varadkar was educated at the St Francis Xavier National School, Blanchardstown. His secondary-level education took place in Palmerstown at The King’s Hospital, which is a fee-paying school operated under the ethos of the Church of Ireland.

During his secondary schooling he joined 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 Young Fine Gael and served as vice-president of the Youth of the European People’s Party, the youth wing of the Christian Democrat group.

He was selected for the prestigious Washington Ireland Program, which prepares ambitious young people for future leadership roles. He graduated from the school of medicine in 2003 and spent several years working as a junior doctor in St. James’s Hospital and Connolly Hospital before qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010.

Political career

Fingal County Council: 2003–2007

Leo Varadkar was twenty years old and a second-year medical student when he unsuccessfully contested the 1999 local elections in the Mulhuddart area. Leo 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.

Dáil Éireann: 2007–present

Varadkar was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 2007 general election,  and became party spokesperson for Enterprise, Trade and Employment from 2007 to 2010. At the 2011 general election, Leo 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).

Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport: 2011–2014

When Fine Gael formed a coalition government with Labour, Varadkar was appointed Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on 9 March 2011. This was considered a surprise appointment as Varadkar was not renowned as a sports lover. He said that while he knew “a lot of facts…I don’t play the sports.”

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. Many of Varadkar’s cabinet colleagues were not impressed with Varadkar’s forthrightness; nor was the European Central Bank. Taoiseach Enda Kenny repeated the Government line that the State would not require a further EU-IMF bailout and said he had warned all ministers against making negative public remarks about the economy. Varadkar said that reaction to the story was hyped up but that he was not misquoted. Responding to Varadkar’s decision to express his opinion in public, Independent News & Media’s Evening Herald paper described the minister as gaffe prone, as it had also done previously.

Minister for Health: 2014–2016

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

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.

He was returned to the Dáil at the February 2016 general election. He retained the health portfolio in an acting capacity until May that year, due to a 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. He was reported as having told the Dáil that the cuts were “necessary as the funding could be better used elsewhere.”

Minister for Social Protection: 2016–2017

On 6 May 2016, after government formation talks had concluded, Enda Kenny appointed Varadkar as Minister for Social Protection.

Taoiseach and Leader of Fine Gael

Like 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. He became Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach, as well as the youngest and the first of half-Indian descent. It was also the first time one Fine Gael Taoiseach was succeeded by another.

One of Varadkar’s first acts as Taoiseach was to announce that a referendum on abortion would be held in 2018. He also said that the government would lay out a road map for how to achieve a low carbon economy.

Personal life

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”. This made him the first openly gay cabinet member in Ireland. Varadkar was a prominent advocate of the same-sex marriage referendum.

His partner, Matthew Barrett, is a doctor at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.

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