Ireland is on the cusp of electing its first gay premier after the ruling Fine Gael party revealed its new leader, Leo Varadkar.
The 38-year-old is a former GP – the son of an Irish nurse and a doctor from India who moved to Ireland.
Varadkar came out publicly as gay in the run-up to the 2015 same-sex marriage referendum, with the country backing the law change and becoming the first country in the world to do so by referendum.
Varadkar said he accepted his win with humility and would set about making the party more democratic and more inclusive.
“If my election as leader of Fine Gael today has shown anything, it is that prejudice has no hold on this republic,” he said to sustained applause and cheering from his centre-right party faithful.
“When my father travelled 5,000 miles to build a new home in Ireland, I doubt he ever dreamed his son would grow up to become leader,” he said.
As the new leader of the biggest party in the Republic of Ireland’s ruling coalition, Fine Gael, Varadkar is expected to take over from former Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny in the next few weeks – and would become Ireland’s youngest ever premier.
In a signal that he would try to reunite his party – which has split between the ordinary membership and the parliamentary party over the leadership race, with the grassroots supporting his opponent Simon Coveney – Varadkar said he hoped to gain the trust and confidence of those who did not vote for him.
Turning to runner-up Coveney, he said more united than divided them, and “I know we are going to work together to bring Fine Gael and Ireland forward”.
But although he could be ratified as Taoiseach within weeks, questions already loom over how long Varadkar can hold on to the office.
The administration is propped up by Fine Gael’s ancient rivals Fianna Fail as part of a supply and confidence arrangement after an unprecedented schism in the electorate.
Elected Fine Gael politicians and ordinary members had been voting throughout the week for their new party leader.
The ballot is decided in an electoral college system that gives the parliamentary party, made up of 73 TDs, senators and MEPs, 65% of the vote.
Several thousand rank-and-file members of the party have 25% and 235 local representatives 10%.
Varadkar’s background, both being gay and half-Indian, received a lot of attention in the build-up to the vote. Some people feel too much.
Others feel the Taoiseach-elect shows Ireland as a progressive country.
While much of the conversation online is centring around Varadkar’s politics, which has previously been described as “Thatcherite” – a label he has rejected.