The gay son of an immigrant is to be the next leader of the Irish government. Leo Varadkar, the current Minister of Social Protection, beat off his rival Simon Coveney today in a Fine Gael leadership battle. He is set to officially become Taoiseach from June 13.
A vote for Taoiseach will be held in the Irish parliament when it next sits on June 13 and Varadakar is virtually certain to win it unless there is a massive surprise.
"I'm honored to have been elected today as the leader of the Fine Gael party," Varadkar said after his victory was announced in Dublin's Mansion House where the party faithful had gathered. "I accept it with humility and aware of the challenges that we have ahead. I'm ready for those challenges, as are we as a party.
"I accept it with humility and aware of the challenges that we have ahead. I'm ready for those challenges, as are we as a party.
He won the party electoral college vote by 60 percent to 40 percent for his rival, Simon Coveney.
"This contest has reminded many of us about what inspired us to join Fine Gael ... Whether it's the patriotism of our founding fathers like Collins and Griffin and O'Higgins and Cosgrave, the idealism of a just society and the equality of opportunity we represent, the excitement of the Fitzgerald era which liberalized our society and modernized it and reset our relationships with Britain and the North for the better, or the Bruton era that was marked by a commitment to Europe and a financial responsibility, today Fine Gael holds true to all those values and all those strands of thought continue to thrive within our party."
Chaos as Leo arrives pic.twitter.com/Cgb8xIefTP— Hugh O'Connell (@oconnellhugh) June 2, 2017
Fine Gael, a center-right, Christian Democratic Irish political party, were forced to vote on a new leader when Enda Kenny made a much-anticipated step aside earlier this year leaving the coveted spot open for contention. The party is the current governing party with the largest number of elected representatives, forming a minority coalition government with independents last year.
Serving as Minister for Social Protection from since May 2016, 38-year-old Varadkar has previously served as Minister for Health and Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport. Born in Dublin and studying medicine at Trinity College Dublin after attending a private school run under a Church of Ireland ethos, Varadkar spent some time as a general practitioner before focusing on a full-time political career.
A Fine Gael Teachta Dála (TD - Member of the Irish Parliament) for the Dublin-West constituency he is the youngest and only son of Mumbai-born Maharashtrian Ashok Varadkar and Co. Wexford-born Miriam Varadkar. The couple met while both working in healthcare in England, settling in Ireland before Varadkar was born.
He was first elected to the Dáil (Irish parliament) in June 2007 quickly being promoted to the front bench by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and serving as Spokesperson on Communications, Energy, and Natural Resources before receiving a promotion to Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport in March 2011.
This leadership contest reminded me what it means to be a member of Fine Gael - Leo Varadkar pic.twitter.com/zqJ52LfNQM— RTÉ News (@rtenews) June 2, 2017
Varadkar became the first openly gay cabinet minister in Ireland in January 2015 speaking publically about it for the first time in an interview with Irish public broadcaster RTÉ. "It’s not something that defines me,” he said. “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".
In order to secure the win, three separate divisions of the Fine Gael electoral college were involved in the vote: membership, of which there were circa 10,000 votes cast; Fine Gael councilors (200 of 235 voted); and the vote of Fine Gael’s 73 parliamentarians. Compared to the US system, the parliamentary vote would be the equivalent of the vote of a super delegate. Councilors made up ten percent of the vote while the membership accounts for 25 percent.
Leo Varadkar pays tribute to Simon Coveney and says that the pair will work together to bring a bright future to Ireland pic.twitter.com/hYQIXPe9xm— RTÉ News (@rtenews) June 2, 2017
The results of the vote did show some disconnect between the grassroots of the party and the parliamentary party itself. Although Varadkar won the vote among other politicians, Coveney took the membership vote by 65 percent (7,051 votes) to 35 percent (3,772 votes) showing that he was more popular among the general members of Fine Gael.
Leo Varadkar elected new leader of FG Winning 60pc of the vote pic.twitter.com/kJYlt2RAJX— Justin McCarthy (@MrJustinMac) June 2, 2017
"These were the heart and soul of the party exercising their franchise. The current tallies are encouraging but we still have some way to go,” current Minister for Health and Coveney supporter Simon Harris told the Irish Times just after the membership vote was announced.
Of the membership base, one-third of those eligible to vote were in Coveney’s base of Munster where the Minister for Housing is highly popular. Varadkar’s Dublin-centric base only contained 10 percent of Fine Gael members who could vote in the leadership battle.
Varadkar took the councilors’ vote, however, by 123 (55%) votes to 100 (45%). Giving Coveney 20.65 percent of the overall vote after two divisions were counted, he was still facing an uphill battle with his fellow parliamentarians and would have needed several who had already committed their vote to Varadkar to change their mind to have secured the victory.
The new Taoiseach got 51 votes from the Fine Gael parliamentary party, awarding him over half of the overall vote in one swoop while Coveney just picked up 22 votes. With Varadkar having just 46 declared votes before hand it seems that some reneged on their Coveney allegiance.
Simon Coveney says Fine Gael is not divided and pledges his full support to Leo Varadkar pic.twitter.com/QklO3v2BhG— RTÉ News (@rtenews) June 2, 2017
Enda Kenny, who announced his retirement as leader of the party and as Taoiseach on May 17, will still remain on as acting Taoiseach until June 13 when the Dáil will next sit. Next week he will accompany an Enterprise Ireland trade mission to Chicago and travel to Belgium on Wednesday for his last foreign trip as Taoiseach for the centenary commemorations for the Battle of Messines Ridge.
Varadkar is also expected to reshuffle his cabinet once he officially becomes Taoiseach, favoring those who publicly announced their support for him.
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