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Arlene Foster congratulates Varadkar who will be first gay Irish premier

By Staff Reporter

DUP leader Arlene Foster has welcomed the election of Leo Varadkar as Fine Gael chief.

The gay son of an Indian immigrant is set to be the Republic of Ireland's 14th Taoiseach, and one of the youngest leaders in Europe.

Mrs Foster was among the first to congratulate him on the news which had made international headline, with a phone call which Mr Varadkar described during his first press conference as leader as "kind".

He pledged to start working with her as soon as next week's Westminster elections had concluded over Brexit.

Read more: Leo Varadkar to be Republic of Ireland’s next Taoiseach

Last night, Mrs Foster told the Belfast Telegraph she echoed his sentiments, saying they planned to meet as soon as possible.

"I had a very constructive relationship with Leo when I was Northern Ireland's tourism minister and he was the Republic of Ireland's minister with responsibility for tourism," she said.

"I am glad that north-south relations are transformed compared to when I was growing up. I look forward to working with Leo and we have agreed to meet as soon as possible. There are a number of issues which are of mutual concern between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, not least the negotiations as the United Kingdom leaves the EU."

Mr Varadkar (38) defeated his rival for the Fine Gael leadership Simon Coveney by 60% to 40% - but failed to win the popular vote.

Of the party members, 7,051 sided with the Cork candidate, compared with 3,772 who voted for Mr Varadkar. This leaves Housing Minister Mr Coveney in a strong position to be appointed Tanaiste in the coming weeks.

The two are set to meet today to discuss the fallout from the campaign. Mr Varadkar's victory was sealed by massive support from Fine Gael's 73 TDs, senators and MEPs. He secured the votes of 51 members of the parliamentary party, more than even his closest supporters had predicted.

At his first press conference yesterday evening, the social protection minister pledged Brexit and Northern Ireland would be his early priorities.

Mr Varadkar was emotional as he described his victory as "surreal" but hoped his "unlikely story" would inspire others.

"Around the world people look to Ireland as a country where it doesn't matter where you come from but where you want to go," he commented.

"I know when my father travelled 5,000 miles to make his home in Ireland, I doubt he ever dreamed that his son would one day grow up to be its leader.

"That despite his differences, his son would be treated the same and judged by his actions and character, not his origins or identity."

Taoiseach Enda Kenny did not attend the count in Dublin's Mansion House, but issued a statement offering "heartiest congratulations" to his successor.

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