Ireland is on the verge of a huge generational change in its political life with the likely election of Leo Varadkar as its next premier – a move that would give the once-staunchly Catholic country its first openly gay leader and its first of Asian immigrant descent.
Varadkar has built a near insurmountable lead ahead of a contest next week to succeed Enda Kenny as leader of the governing Fine Gael and prime minister. At 38, he would also become the youngest person to hold the office.
Supporters are comparing the trained doctor to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and new French President Emmanuel Macron, hoping a straight-talker from the generation hit hardest by an economic meltdown a decade ago can transform the political landscape.
“I honestly don’t think in 1981 when I first got elected that I could foresee a time when an openly gay man might become Taoiseach (prime minister),” former Fine Gael deputy leader Nora Owen, who served as justice minister in the 1990s, told Reuters.
“We have come a long way and the fact that someone like Leo Varadkar, who is an openly gay man, living with his partner, can actually put himself forward for Taoiseach and nobody is batting an eyelid is wonderful and I think it’s a great day for Ireland that we can do that.”