Monday 23 October 2017

Proud mother can't hold back the tears as Leo refers to his father's journey here

Leo Varadkar with his parents Ashok and Miriam at the Mansion House yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Leo Varadkar with his parents Ashok and Miriam at the Mansion House yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Leo Varadkar's who was elected Fine Gael leader is congratulated by Simon Coveney Pic: Mark Condren
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'Around the world, people look to Ireland as a country where it doesn't matter where you come from but where you want to go," he said. "I know when my father travelled 5,000 miles to make his home in Ireland, I doubt he ever dreamed that his son would one day grow up to be its leader."

Leo Varadkar's mother Miriam put her hands to her eyes and cried.

It wasn't the fact her son had just become leader of Fine Gael, she explained afterwards - it was the reference to his father travelling 5,000 miles.

"I couldn't hold back the tears," she said.

But it was hardly a stretch to say she and her husband, Ashok, were the proudest parents in Ireland at that particular moment as they stood in the historic round room of the Mansion House where history was made in January 1919 when the first meeting of Dáil Éireann was held - and where history was unfolding once again.

This was the son who, from a very young age, had been interested in politics and would join his father in watching "every election around the world", and was able to predict the winner just by tallying the numbers, Ashok explained. "He was always right," he said.

And it was true what Leo had said, the couple agreed - they had never predicted he would become the 11th leader of his party.

"I never thought this day would ever happen," said Miriam with the brutal honesty of the typical mother.

Read More: The 'Tory Boy' whose ability to stay distance has seen him scale political mountain

And what did they make of the headlines he has been making all over the world - particularly in India? Were they surprised?

No, said Ashok - they were used to Leo being covered by the Indian press because of his prominent position.

"He is a proud son of India," he explained simply.

The couple stood there as congratulations rained down upon them, their son still on stage.

But they were conscious there had been another candidate in the race.

"I think it was quite fair," said Miriam cautiously.

But the Coveneys are a lovely family, she said, almost with a note of anguish that politics had to be so unfair.

She had met Simon's mother and found her "lovely" - very gracious.

And Simon is a "nice guy", she added, saying they will have to work together.

What about a celebration afterwards?

"We'll see what Leo wants," she said definitively as the mayhem played out before her.

"But hopefully we'll at least have Sunday lunch."

Read More: Varadkar's victory is 'a great step' for multicultural Ireland

In reality, this win was in the bag since the very start of the campaign - maybe even months before.

But the party has gained from the contest, Simon Coveney insisted.

As a distraction, he had taken his wife Ruth and their children to Bloom.

It also happened to be the birthday of their eldest daughter Beth. His family were first on his mind as he conceded defeat.

"Well, my children will be pleased," he said with a wry smile.

It had been a long day and his team had not given up the fight until well into the evening.

By lunchtime, they were insisting it was still possible - if Simon got 70pc of the members' vote, if he got the backing of the six undeclared ministers or TDs, and if at least three of those rumoured to have switched sides actually did.

In the end, that didn't happen - though, Hillary Clinton-style, he did win 'the popular vote'.

The Coveney camp tried not to be triumphant at this.

Read More: Coveney lacked the killer instinct needed to secure the biggest job in Irish politics

"Well, you must be disappointed," drawled one party member to the other side.

Not at all, he replied.

Sure didn't Leo win?

Eamon Farrell, brother of the actor Colin, who had campaigned for marriage equality and become a firm friend of Leo's on the campaign trail, described this moment as "magical".

"It's just a huge thing for so many minorities and sends a message that no matter who you are, you can be anything you want to be. You can be Taoiseach," he said.

Where you came from or what you were had nothing to do with it - gender or ethnicity were nothing in contrast to ability.

"It's just magical to be here," he said.

Irish Independent

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