Leo Varadkar becomes new leader of Fine Gael

Leo Varadkar won 60 per cent of the votes. Picture: PA
Leo Varadkar won 60 per cent of the votes. Picture: PA
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Ireland’s governing Fine Gael party has elected Leo Varadkar, the gay son of an Indian immigrant, as its new leader and the country’s likely next prime minister.

Mr Varadkar defeated rival Simon Coveney in a contest to replace Enda Kenny, who resigned last month. He won 60 per cent of the votes.

Mr Coveney won the votes of a majority of party members,

But Mr Varadkar was backed by most politicians and local representatives to give him victory under the centre-right party’s electoral college system.

He is highly likely to become prime minister in Ireland’s coalition government, although not immediately.

Mr Kenny will remain for a couple of weeks while Mr Varadkar holds talks with other members of the Fine Gael-led coalition government.

At 38, Mr Varadkar will be Ireland’s youngest leader, as well as the first from an ethnic-minority background and the first openly gay leader.

Mr Kenny, who did not turn up to the count, offered his “heartiest congratulations” to Mr Varadkar in statement.

“This is a tremendous honour for him and I know he will devote his life to improving the lives of people across our country,” he said.

Mr Kenny said he would provide a “brief but appropriate period” for Mr Varadkar to engage with other parties and groupings about leading the country.

He announced last month he was stepping down after repeated calls for him to stand aside after 15 years at the helm of the party and six years in charge of government.

Mr Varadkar, Ireland’s first openly gay cabinet minister and the son of an immigrant doctor, had been the clear favourite to replace him.

The 38-year-old from Dublin battled for the coveted role against Mr Coveney, a 44-year-old father-of-three from Cork.

Prior to the vote, Mr Kenny sent a series of messages on Twitter to send good wishes to both men, telling them they had energised the party.

“I remember this day almost 15 years ago and the sense of excitement & possibility,” he said.

“I pledge my full support to whoever is elected, in the important work at government level, to which the new leader will have to dedicate...their life in service of the people of this great Republic. My enduring belief in the potential of this country is boundless.”

Fine Gael politicians and members voted for the new party leader this week. The ballot is decided in an electoral college system that gives the parliamentary party, made up of 73 TDs, senators and MEPs, 65 per cent of the vote. Several thousand rank-and-file members of the party have 25 per cent and 235 local representatives 10 per cent.

Ireland’s new Taoiseach is not expected to be formally confirmed until 13 June when the Dail parliament resumes.

Among Mr Kenny’s final official overseas engagements will be a two-day trade mission to Chicago next week and the centenary commemoration of the start of the Battle of Messines in the First World War where soldiers from all over Ireland fought together.