THE changing face of Irish society will come into sharp focus in the coming weeks after the election of a new leader of the country’s largest political party, the traditionally conservative Fine Gael.
The favourite candidate to succeed the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, is the 38-year-old doctor Leo Varadkar, of Indian descent, who, should he win, would become both the youngest Irish government leader, and the first of ethnic-minority heritage. He is also openly gay. Dr Varadkar, who is noted for his plain speaking, is currently the Minister for Social Protection. He is the son of an Irish mother and an Indian doctor who met while working in a Leicester hospital.
His opponent, Simon Coveney, who is 45, is the Minister for Housing. He was elected to Dáil Éireann after the death of his father, Hugh, in a walking accident in 1998. Mr Coveney is a father of three, from a Cork business family.
Four hustings have been held across the country. At the last of these, on Sunday in Cork, the candidates “mounted personalised and direct criticisms of each other”, The Irish Times reported.
A majority of the Fine Gael Parliamentary party, and county councillors, had backed Dr Varadkar before the ballot of the party’s electoral college of 31,000 members. This process began on Monday, and the result is expected to be apparent this afternoon.
This week marked the second anniversary of the Equality in Marriage referendum in the State, which was carried by a majority.