Leo Varadkar Returns as Ireland’s Prime Minister Bringing All the British Isles Under the ‘Indian’ Sun
- The 43-year-old son of an Indian-born doctor and an Irish nurse became Taoiseach as Part of a 2020 Coalition Agreement. He first came to power in July 2017, becoming the youngest and first openly gay prime minister in the majority-Catholic country.
Less than two months after Rishi Sunk, 42, of Indian heritage became the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Leo Varadkar, 43, who is also of Indian heritage, returned to power in the Republic of Ireland, symbolically bringing all the British Isles under the ‘Indian’ sun, as it were.
Varadkar has taken over as the new prime minister or Taoiseach of Ireland, as he and Micheál Martin swap roles as part of the coalition agreement of June 2020. The son of an Indian-born doctor and an Irish nurse was as elected by 87 Deputy to the Dáil or members of the Irish Parliament, while 62 opposed his nomination, as reported by the BBC. Martin will take on Varadkar’s role as tánaiste or deputy prime minister, and will also be minister for foreign affairs, the BBC report said.
Under terms of that agreement, the nearly century-old rivals of Irish politics — Martin’s Fianna Fáil and Varadkar’s Fine Gael – formed their first joint government with support from a junior coalition partner, the Green Party. All three agreed that Martin would lead for the first 2 ½ years, and Varadkar for the rest of an expected five-year administration. Varadkar previously led the government from 2017 to 2020.
The 43-year-old was elected as the Taoiseach in July 2017, becoming the youngest and first openly gay prime minister in the majority-Catholic country. The new ruling Fine Gael leader won 57 votes in the Irish Parliament against 50 for his nomination as premier, while some 45 parliamentarians abstained in the vote, the Independent reported.
Several world leaders congratulated the newly-appointed leader, including India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Rishi Sunak, the British Prime Minister. Modi, in a tweet, said that he values the historical ties, shared constitutional values, and multi-faceted cooperation between India and Ireland.
Sunak said he looks forward to working with Varadkar “to ensure all strands of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreements are working.”
Meanwhile, The New York Times noted that Varadkar’s “return to power has been marked by little fanfare,” partly due to his “stiffness of manner and tendency to speak his mind, to the point of insensitivity, as counting against him in Ireland’s relatively conciliatory political climate.”
Although the physician-turned-politician won praise for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and working on the frontlines, he received some criticism as well. The New York Times reported that he was criticized for saying that people might prefer to lose their jobs because they would qualify for a weekly pandemic unemployment payment of 350 euros ($380).
Varadkar was born in the suburbs of Dublin to Ashok and Miriam, who met in Slough and lived in Leicester and India, returning to Dublin in 1973. The couple has three children: Sophia, a neurologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London; Sonia, a midwife at the Coombe Hospital in Dublin; and Leo.
A Village magazine profile on Varadkar said he was brought up Catholic, and educated at St. Francis National School in his hometown of Blanchardstown. A trained physician, educated at King’s Hospital School, Palmerstown and Trinity College-Dublin, he has represented the Dublin-West constituency in parliament since 2007.
After graduation, he spent several years working as a junior doctor at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown before qualifying as a GP in 2010. He was only 20 and in his second year in medical school when he contested the local elections in 1999 — but he scored 380 first preference votes and was eliminated on the fifth count, The Irish Independent reported.
He was co-opted onto Fingal County Council in 2004, before being elected to the Irish Parliament in the 2007 general election. He was immediately appointed as Fine Gael’s spokesman for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. He was re-elected in 2011 when the party came into power and was made transport minister. In a cabinet reshuffle in 2014, Varadkar replaced James Reilly as health minister.
He was returned to the Parliament in the 2016 general election and
was subsequently handed the job of Social Protection Minister.
In a radio interview on Jan. 18, 2015, on the occasion of his 36th birthday, Varadkar revealed he was gay, becoming the first openly gay cabinet minister in Irish history. He was a prominent supporter of the Yes campaign in the same-sex marriage referendum the following May. “It is not something that defines me,” he told the listeners. “I’m not a half-Indian politician or a doctor or a politician or a gay politician for that matter,” he said, adding, “It’s just a part of who I am, it doesn’t define me, it is part of my character I suppose.”