- The Indian-origin Taoiseach stepped down for Micheál Martin and will return as the prime minister sometime in 2022.
Leo Varadkar, the Indian-origin Prime Minister of Ireland, has stepped down as Micheál Martin took over the country’s reigns, as part of a coalition deal.
Varadkar, leader of Fine Gael, will return as the prime minister sometime in 2022. He is now the deputy prime minister. “My first official duties as Tanaiste (Deputy Head) today is commemorating the Connaught Rangers who, one hundred years ago, mutinied in India in support of Irish independence,” he Tweeted on June 28.
He has been a caretaker prime minister since February when the general election delivered a loss of seats for his party, but no clear winner.
The office of the Taoiseach or prime minister, will rotate between the country’s two centrist parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fail. The New York Times reported that “the path to a new government “was cleared on June 26,” when Green Party members voted decisively to support joining the coalition after extracting concessions on environmental initiatives.” The Times report said that “the agreement to form the new government comes after a turbulent period in Irish politics, in which Varadkar’s government was toppled amid voter anger over a housing crisis, rising rents and a failing public health service.”
Varadkar, now 41, the son of an Indian-born doctor and an Irish nurse, was elected as the Taioseach 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.
The physician-turned-politician has won praise for his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. Varadkar canceled St. Patrick’s Day festivities, oversaw an aggressive early testing program, closed pubs and schools earlier than other European countries, and was said to be honest and forthright about the coronavirus outbreak and its spread.
After leaving the medical profession in 2013, he reactivated his registration as a medical doctor to head to the coronavirus front lines. The RTE reported in April that Varadkar, a qualified general practitioner, worked one shift a week to help out during the pandemic.
Varadkar, however, 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). “That played into a familiar critique that Varadkar has little empathy for those in economic hardship,” the report said. “But he compensated for those stumbles with an address on St. Patrick’s Day that was viewed by commentators as one of the most memorable ever delivered by an Irish leader,” it added.
On March 12, he visited Washington, D.C., for the traditional annual visit of Ireland’s leader ahead of St. Patrick’s Day. It was there that President Trump, after an initial hesitancy of avoiding the almost reflexive handshake, took the cue from Varadkar, bringing both his palms together for the ‘namaste’ greeting.
From Medicine to Politics
Varadkar was born in the suburbs of Dublin. His parents, Ashok and Miriam, met in Slough, and lived in Leicester and India, returning to Dublin in 1973. The couple have three children: Sophia, a neurologist in Great Ormond Street Hospital in London; Sonia, a midwife in 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, Varadkar has represented the Dublin-West constituency in parliament since 2007.
After graduation, he spent several years working as a junior doctor in 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.
Varadkar 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 Dail or the Irish Parliament in the 2016 general election and was subsequently handed the job of Social Protection Minister. A big music fan, Varadkar regularly attends the Electric Picnic festival. He is also a big sports fan and a regular at soccer and rugby games.
Despite his Indian roots, Varadkar has visited India only thrice in his 41 years — first as a 14-year-old, then in 2011 as a transport minister, and last December, as prime minister. In September 2015, he was among those who received India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his maiden visit to Ireland.
Last December, Varadkar began his private India trip by visiting his ancestral village Varad in the coastal Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra. According to reports in India media as well as in Irish News, the Taoiseach did not avail any security while in India. Varadkar was accompanied by his parents, his sisters and their husbands, his partner and “some grandchildren.”
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.”