Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Incoming Taoiseach aspired to ministerial office when he was just seven

Leo Varadkar dared to hope but never really expected he could become leader of his country.

But two short years ago, when Ireland became the world's first country to vote for gay marriage, his recognition as an equal citizen rekindled his aspiration.

"An aspiration which I once thought was beyond my reach - at least, if I chose to be myself," he said on being elected Taoiseach 10 years to the day he first took a seat in the Dail.

Mr Varadkar has never been shy about his ambitions.

As a precocious seven-year-old he declared his lofty intention to be minister for health one day.

That achievement came when he was just 35 and with his progression through the cabinet ranks he steadily began to cement himself as the clear favourite to succeed Enda Kenny as leader of Fine Gael and next premier.

Ireland's first openly gay Cabinet minister and now Taoiseach, the son of an immigrant doctor from India is also the country's youngest ever leader.

He is only 38.

And it is a combination of his youth, background and straight-talking that the party faithful think will be a major selling point in future elections if his face is emblazoned on posters up and down the country.

Mr Varadkar is a Trinity College qualified doctor and he has been in a relationship with another medic for about two years.

While his politics are clearly conservative, he portrays the image of a new, progressive Ireland, symbolised best in the May 2015 referendum for same sex marriage equality.

It came just a few months after Mr Varadkar himself revealed in a radio interview that he was gay.

When the result of the referendum was known, the then health minister declared: "To me this had the feeling of a social movement or a social revolution."

In his relatively short time in the upper echelons of Irish politics Mr Varadkar has set himself apart with a straight-talking attitude.

As transport minister he broke ranks to praise two garda whistle-blowers as distinguished, a remark in stark contrast to former Garda commissioner Martin Callinan's description of their actions as "disgusting".

But it is this same shoot from the hip attitude that creates enemies.

In 2007, not long after he won a seat in national politics for the first time, he lashed out at Bertie Ahern while he was mired in controversy over his financial affairs.

Mr Varadkar took a swipe at the beleaguered taoiseach of the day claiming the gutter was his "natural habitat".

In the contest for the Fine Gael leadership Mr Varadkar declared himself as the candidate for "people who get up early in the morning".

And while his public remarks are said to be drilled and scripted to the last iota, that is the kind of statement that could dramatically backfire in a general election.

One of his drawbacks is that he is seen as being too much of a Dublin man.

Joe McHugh, a ministerial colleague who has been firmly in the Varadkar camp, brought him to the heart of his Donegal constituency in the days before the campaign proper began and spoke in glowing terms about his intellect, communication skills and willingness to learn.

"He has a craving to try and understand things," he said.

"No-one is going to know everything. And there is a humility there.

"He will have that awareness, that emotional intelligence as some people call it, to know that he still has a lot to learn."

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph