Leo Eric Varadkar (// və-RAD-kər; born 18 January 1979) is an Irish Fine Gael politician who has served as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment since June 2020, having previously served as Taoiseach and Minister for Defence from 2017 to 2020. He has been Leader of Fine Gael since June 2017, and a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin West constituency since 2007. He previously served under Taoiseach Enda Kenny as Minister for Social Protection from 2016 to 2017, Minister for Health from 2014 to 2016 and Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport from 2011 to 2014.
|Assumed office |
27 June 2020
|Preceded by||Simon Coveney|
|Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment|
|Assumed office |
27 June 2020
|Preceded by||Heather Humphreys|
|Leader of Fine Gael|
|Assumed office |
2 June 2017
|Preceded by||Enda Kenny|
14 June 2017 – 27 June 2020
|President||Michael D. Higgins|
|Preceded by||Enda Kenny|
|Succeeded by||Micheál Martin|
|Assumed office |
|Born||18 January 1979|
|Political party||Fine Gael|
|Domestic partner||Matthew Barrett|
|Education||The King's Hospital|
|Alma mater||Trinity College Dublin|
Varadkar was born in Dublin and studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin. He spent several years as a non-consultant hospital doctor, eventually qualifying as a general practitioner in 2010. In 2004, he joined Fine Gael and became a member of Fingal County Council and later served as Deputy Mayor of Fingal. He was elected to Dáil Éireann for the first time in 2007. During campaign for the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, Varadkar came out as gay, becoming the first serving Irish minister to do so.
In May 2017, Taoiseach Enda Kenny announced that he would resign as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader. Varadkar stood in the leadership election to replace him; although more party members voted for his opponent, Simon Coveney, he won by a significant margin among Fine Gael members of the Oireachtas, and was elected leader on 2 June. Twelve days later, he was appointed Taoiseach, and at 38 years of age became the youngest person to hold the office. He is Ireland's first, and the world's fourth, openly gay head of government and the first Taoiseach of Indian heritage.
In 2020, Varadkar called a general election held in February. While polls in 2019 had suggested a favourable result for Fine Gael, they ultimately came third in terms of seats and votes, behind Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin, with 35 seats, a loss of 15 seats for the party from the previous general election, when it had come in first position. Varadkar resigned and was succeeded by Micheál Martin as Taoiseach. He was subsequently appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment as part of a three-party coalition composed of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and the Green Party.
Born on 18 January 1979, in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, Varadkar is the third child and only son of Ashok and Miriam (née Howell) Varadkar. His father was born in Bombay (now Mumbai), India, and moved to the United Kingdom in the 1960s, to work as a doctor. His mother, born in Dungarvan, County Waterford, met her future husband while working as a nurse in Slough. Early in 1971, they married in the UK. They lived in Leicester, where the eldest of their three children, Sophie, was born. The family moved to India, before settling in Dublin in 1973, where their second child, Sonia, was born.
Varadkar was educated at the St Francis Xavier national school in Blanchardstown and then The King's Hospital, a Church of Ireland secondary school in Palmerstown. During his secondary schooling, he joined Young Fine Gael. He was admitted to Trinity College Dublin (TCD), where he briefly read law before switching to its School of Medicine. At TCD, he was active in the university's Young Fine Gael branch and served as Vice-President of the Youth of the European People's Party, the youth wing of the European People's Party, of which Fine Gael is a member. Varadkar was selected for the Washington Ireland Program for Service and Leadership (WIP), a half-year personal and professional development program in Washington, D.C., for students from Ireland.
He graduated in 2003, after completing his internship at KEM Hospital in Mumbai. He then spent several years working as a non-consultant hospital doctor in St. James's Hospital and Connolly Hospital, before specialising as a general practitioner in 2010.
Early political careerEdit
Fingal County Council (2003–2007)Edit
Varadkar was twenty years old and a second-year medical student when he unsuccessfully contested the 1999 local elections in the Mulhuddart local electoral area. Varadkar was co-opted to Fingal County Council in 2003, for the Castleknock local electoral area, as a replacement for Sheila Terry. At the 2004 local elections, he received the highest first-preference vote in the country with 4,894 votes and was elected on the first count.
Dáil Éireann (2007–2011)Edit
Varadkar was elected to Dáil Éireann at the 2007 general election as a Fine Gael TD for the Dublin West constituency. Then Leader of the Opposition, Enda Kenny, appointed him to the Front Bench as Spokesperson for Enterprise, Trade and Employment until a 2010 reshuffle, when he became Spokesperson on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. At the 2011 general election, Varadkar was re-elected to Dáil Éireann, with 8,359 first-preference votes (a 19.7% share of the poll in a four-seat constituency).
Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport (2011–2014)Edit
When Fine Gael formed a coalition government with the Labour Party, Varadkar was appointed Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on 9 March 2011. This was considered a surprise appointment, as Varadkar was not known as a sports lover. He said that while he knew "a lot of facts ... I don't play the sports."
In May 2011, Varadkar suggested Ireland was "very unlikely" to resume borrowing in 2012 and might need a second bailout, causing jitters on international markets about Ireland's credibility. Many of his cabinet colleagues frowned on Varadkar's forthrightness, as did the European Central Bank. Taoiseach Enda Kenny repeated the line of the Government of Ireland, that the State would not require a further bailout from the European Union or the International Monetary Fund, and said he had warned all ministers against publicly disparaging the economy. Varadkar said that reaction to the story was hyped up but that he was not misquoted. The Evening Herald repeatedly described Varadkar as gaffe prone.
Minister for Health (2014–2016)Edit
He was returned to the Dáil at the 2016 general election. He retained the health portfolio in an acting capacity until May that year, due to the delay in government formation. In one of his final acts as Minister for Health, Varadkar cut €12 million from the €35 million allocated to that year's budget for mental health care, telling the Dáil that the cuts were "necessary as the funding could be better used elsewhere."
Minister for Social Protection (2016–2017)Edit
On 6 May 2016, after government formation talks had concluded, Taoiseach Enda Kenny appointed Varadkar as Minister for Social Protection. During his time in the ministry, he launched a campaign against welfare fraud.
14th Taoiseach (2017–2020)Edit
On 2 June 2017, Varadkar was elected leader of Fine Gael, defeating Simon Coveney. Although Coveney had the support of more Fine Gael members than Varadkar, the electoral college system more strongly weighted the votes of the party's parliamentarians, with these strongly backing Varadkar.
Like Enda Kenny's second term, Varadkar relied upon the support of Independents and the abstention of Fianna Fáil TDs to support his bid for Taoiseach. On 14 June 2017, he was elected as Taoiseach in a 57–50 vote with 47 abstentions. He became Ireland's first openly gay Taoiseach, as well as the youngest.[nb 1] He is not, however, the youngest head of an Irish government; both Éamon de Valera and Michael Collins were younger on assuming their respective offices in revolutionary governments prior to the establishment of the state. He is also the first head of government who is of half-Indian descent. It was also the first time that one Fine Gael Taoiseach was succeeded by another.[nb 2]
His government nearly collapsed as a result of the Garda whistleblower scandal and Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Frances Fitzgerald's role in it. Fianna Fáil, the main opposition party, who were in a confidence-and-supply agreement with Fine Gael, threatened a motion of no confidence in the Tánaiste. This action would have collapsed the government and caused a general election, as it would breached the confidence and supply agreement. Despite days of gridlock, the crisis was averted, after Fitzgerald resigned from the cabinet to prevent the election, which most of the country did not want due to the possibility of it jeopardising the Irish position in Brexit negotiations. Shortly after this, Varadkar appointed former leadership rival and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney as Tánaiste, Heather Humphreys as Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and Josepha Madigan as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, in a small reshuffle of the cabinet.
Shortly after the Fitzgerald crisis, an impasse was reached in the Brexit talks, as leader of the DUP Arlene Foster objected to a deal agreed to by Varadkar, British Prime Minister Theresa May and President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker. This prevented an agreement from being reached as the deadline approached. Varadkar stated he was 'surprised' and 'disappointed' the UK couldn't reach a deal. However, later in the week a consensus deal was finalised. Varadkar stated he had received guarantees from the UK there would be no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. He later said he and his cabinet had 'achieved all we set out to achieve' during the talks before quoting former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, by saying "This is not the end, this is the end of the beginning". An Irish Times poll taken during these days showed Varadkar with a 53% approval rating, the highest for any Taoiseach since 2011, and showed Fine Gael with an eleven-point lead over Fianna Fáil. Government satisfaction was also at 41%, the highest in almost 10 years. Irish Times columnist Pat Leahy claimed Varadkar had ended 2017 'on a high' and IrishCentral called it the Taoiseach's 'finest hour'.
In January 2018, his opinion poll approval ratings reached 60%, a ten-year high for any Taoiseach.
In January 2018, he announced that the referendum to repeal Ireland's 8th Amendment which prevented any liberalisation of restrictive abortion laws would take place in May. If passed, it would allow the government to introduce new legislation. It was proposed that women would be allowed unrestricted access to abortion up until 12 weeks, with exceptions if the mother's life is in danger up until six months. Varadkar said he would campaign for liberalising the laws, saying his mind was changed by difficult cases during his tenure as Minister for Health. The referendum was passed by a 2:1 majority.
On 24 January 2019, Varadkar said in an interview with Euronews he was standing firm on the Irish backstop and called Brexit an act of self-harm that was not fully thought through. He also said the technology promised by the Brexiteers to solve the Northern Ireland border issue "doesn't yet exist".
Varadkar stated he will refuse to ratify the EU–Mercosur free trade agreement unless Brazil commits to protecting the environment. The fear is that the deal could lead to more deforestation of the Amazon rainforest as it expands market access to Brazilian beef.
On 14 January 2020, Varadkar called for a dissolution of the 32nd Dáil, which was granted by President Michael D. Higgins, and scheduled the next election for 8 February. In that election, Varadkar was re-elected in the Dublin West constituency, but Fine Gael lost 12 seats, falling to third place behind Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin. Varadkar ruled out any possibility of a Fine Gael-Sinn Féin coalition during the election campaign, though a "grand coalition" of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael was floated as a final possibility. However, on 12 February, Varadkar conceded that Fine Gael had lost the election and that he was very likely to become the next Opposition Leader. Varadkar added that Fine Gael was "willing to step back" to allow Sinn Féin, as the winner of the popular vote, to have the first opportunity to form a government. On 20 February, Varadkar offered his resignation to President Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin, pursuant to the constitution, remaining, however, as Taoiseach until the formation of a new government.
During this period, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Ireland. While in Washington, D.C. ahead of Saint Patrick's Day, Varadkar announced measures intended to stop COVID-19 spreading, including the closure of all schools, universities and childcare facilities from the following day, as well as the closure of all cultural institutions and the cancellation of "all indoor mass gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor mass gatherings of more than 500 people". After returning home early, Varadkar addressed the nation on Saint Patrick's night during A Ministerial Broadcast by An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, introducing television viewers to the concept of "cocooning", i.e. "At a certain point… we will advise the elderly and people who have a long-term illness to stay at home for several weeks". The speech was the most watched television event in Irish history, surpassing the previous record held by The Late Late Toy Show by an additional total of about 25% and was widely distributed globally. It was also plagiarised by Peter Bellew, the chief operating officer at British low-cost airline group EasyJet.
Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment (2020–present)Edit
On 26 June 2020, it was announced that Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party had agreed to form a coalition government, marking the first time the two main Irish parties had formed a government together. As part of the agreement, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin will hold the office of Taoiseach until December 2022, while Varadkar will take the position of Tánaiste. The pair will then swap roles after roughly 2½ years into the term, with Varadkar retaking the position of Taoiseach for the remainder of the coalition's term. Martin was elected Taoiseach by the Dáil on 27 June, with Varadkar appointed Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
GP contract leakEdit
On 31 October 2020, Village magazine published an article alleging that Varadkar had leaked confidential documents, including a draft contract between the Health Service Executive and general practitioners that was agreed but still subject to acceptance by GPs at the time, and officially unavailable to members of the Oireachtas. The article included screenshots of WhatsApp messages, including one with a photo of the cover of the leaked document, and alleged the handwriting visible was Varadkar's. While Village claimed the leaks might be unlawful, Varadkar denied this was the case and described the article as "inaccurate and grossly defamatory". He said that the provision of the agreement by an informal communication channel was not best practice.
In response to the claims by Village, the Green Party called for Varadkar to give a detailed account to the Dáil in response to the accusations. This request was seconded by Sinn Féin's health spokesperson, stating "The facts for me here are clear - Leo, as the leader of Fine Gael and Taoiseach at the time, passed on a document to a friend about sensitive negotiations involving hundreds of millions of euro of taxpayers' money", while Varadkar's Fine Gael colleague Paschal Donohoe also expressed a desire for Varadkar to answer questions in the Dáil. Varadkar apologised in the Dáil for "errors of judgement" in sharing a copy of the contract, and rejected any suggestion that he had anything to gain personally from giving the IMO document to the NAGP president as "false and deeply offensive".
Varadkar is the first Irish government leader of Indian origin and has visited India on a number of occasions. He completed his medical internship at KEM Hospital in his father's childhood city of Mumbai.
During an interview on RTÉ Radio on 18 January 2015 (his 36th birthday), Varadkar spoke publicly for the first time about being gay: "it's not something that defines me. 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". Varadkar was a prominent advocate of the same-sex marriage referendum. His partner, Matthew Barrett, is a doctor at Mater Misericordiae University Hospital.
In 2017, Varadkar completed a course in professional Irish, and devised an Irish language form for his surname, de Varad. He has said, "My philosophy towards Irish is just to speak it! Speak Irish! It’s not about getting it perfect – it’s about having fun and making an effort to speak it."
- The List of Irish heads of government since 1919 shows that two Irish heads of government since 1919, Éamon de Valera (born 14 October 1882, and aged 36 on 1 April 1919) and Michael Collins (born 16 October 1890, and aged 31 on 16 January 1922), have been younger than Varadkar (born 18 January 1979, and aged 38 on 14 June 2017). But both were before the title Taoiseach was adopted under the 1937 Constitution, and indeed before the state came into internationally recognised existence on 6 December 1922.
- The List of Irish heads of government since 1919 shows that by the end of August 1922, two heads of government from the Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin party had died in office: Arthur Griffith (who died on 12 August 1922) and Michael Collins (who died on 22 August 1922). They were succeeded by W. T. Cosgrave of the same Pro-Treaty Sinn Féin faction, which, after being known as Cumann na nGaedheal from 1923 to 1933, merged with two smaller parties in 1933 to form Fine Gael, which was soon led by Cosgrave from 1934 to 1944. But that was before the title Taoiseach was adopted under the 1937 Constitution, before the name "Fine Gael" was adopted in 1933, and indeed before the state came into internationally recognised existence on 6 December 1922.
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If elected, Varadkar would only be the fourth openly gay world leader in modern history. The others include Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Xavier Bettel, former Prime Minister of Belgium, Elio Di Rupo, and former Prime Minister of Iceland, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir.
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He spent years tongue-lashing Calamity Coughlin for her gaffes, but now Leo Varadkar is building up a bit of a reputation himself. The Fine Gael 'Young Turk' has a growing list of slip-ups, with the latest being the most serious.
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"As minister for health I became convinced that abortion had no place in the constitution" said Mr Varadkar. Of the most compelling cases was that of "Miss Y" a migrant woman was turned away from an English port when she went to the UK for an abortion. "She went on hunger strike and became suicidal" said the Taoiseach.
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