Belfast Telegraph

Leo Varadkar set to be next Taoiseach after winning Fine Gael leadership battle

By Kevin Doyle and Catherine Devine

Leo Varadkar is the new leader of Fine Gael and on course to become the Republic of Ireland’s next Taoiseach.

The Social Protection Minister got the support of 51 TDs, senators and MEP to get over the line despite losing the popular vote.

Simon Coveney has won 65pc of the membership of the Fine Gael party in a major blow to Mr Varadkar.

Massive cheers greeted Mr Varadkar as he arrived at the count centre in the Mansion House shortly before the result was declared.

In total 10,842 of the party’s 21,000 member voted, with 7,051 siding with the Cork candidate. Some 3,772 voted for Mr Varadkar. There were 19 spoiled votes.

Mr Varadkar won the votes of 123 councillors, against 100 who went for Mr Coveney.

But it was his popularity among his Leinster House colleagues that ensured victory.

The vast majority of the parliamentary party, who make up 65pc of the electorate, have publicly supported Mr Varadkar since the early days of the campaign.

Mr Varadkar will automatically take over from Enda Kenny but must wait until Tuesday, June 13 before being elected Taoiseach.

Fine Gael TDs, senators and MEPs gathered in Leinster House early this morning to cast their final votes in the leadership contest.

The former Minister for Social Protection was the front runner from the start of the election campaign with a number of high profile TDs quick to back him.

The 38-year-old will be the youngest ever Taoiseach and the fourth openly-gay world leader after Belgium, Iceland and Luxemburg.

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 as next Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar is Ireland's first openly gay cabinet minister and the son of an immigrant doctor from India.

Some in his inner circle suggest he has been working on his challenge for the last six years, methodically building relations with parliamentary colleagues while relentlessly maintaining his career trajectory.

And it is a combination of his youth, background and straight-talking that the party faithful think will be a major selling point in 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 centre-right politics are clearly conservative, he portrays the image of a new, progressive Ireland, symbolised best in May 2015 when the Republic voted overwhelmingly in favour of gay marriage.

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 and something that could cost him.

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 to 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 accept that if he's successful.

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

Irish Independent


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