Last month at my internship with the Irish parliament I was able to witness a historic event: the election of a new prime minister. Since it only happens once every five years or so, I felt particularly lucky that I chose this summer to do an internship in Dublin. The new Prime Minister (known as “Taoiseach” in Gaelic, pronounced TEE-shuck) is Leo Varadkar. He is currently the youngest ever Irish Taoiseach and he is the first to be openly gay and the son of an Indian immigrant.
On the day of his election, I was able to sit in the House and witness his swearing and voting in. There was a huge crowd of people and reporters outside the parliament building throughout the week and the whole building was super crowded and hectic. The whole process was extremely different than the American one; the campaign only lasted about a couple months and Leo Varadkar was already elected as the new leader of the ruling political party of government, Fine Gael, so everyone already knew that he was most likely going to be Prime Minister even before he was elected.
His election means a lot to me and to other fellow Americans, as it signifies a new diverse, liberal standpoint in a national government, but to most Irish citizens Leo Varadkar’s identity means very little. If Leo had been elected in the U.S., it would be the topic of conversations for years. Here, people care about his policies, his party, and political agenda. The fact that he is gay and Indian is of little importance to the Irish population which I find really interesting. In fact, I would not even know if I had not seen it on twitter because none of my coworkers feel it is important enough to mention. In a way I think it is good because the focus is on politics and policies. The Prime Minister is generally well-liked and respected, but I also think it could be beneficial to talk about his identity in Ireland considering the country has a history of conservative society and only recently liberalized their government. Homosexuality was only decriminalized in Ireland in 1993. Now, it has one of the most liberal and welcoming viewpoints towards the LGBT community and even has a gay prime minister. I just wish they would talk about it more.