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'We need to be cautious about celebrating Varadkar’s political success'

We are far from everything being grand. Just this week a mosque in Galway was attacked, writes Dil Wickremasinghe.

Image: PA Wire/PA Images

LEO VARADKAR IS the new leader of Fine Gael and is set to be our next Taoiseach. This news has attracted worldwide attention, as the international community is surprised that a country that was so conservative and Catholic has become so liberal to choose a young gay man who is the son of an Indian migrant as their next leader.

Many people might think I should be delighted with this, especially since I’m a lesbian migrant who for the better part of the last twenty years has been championing the benefits of political representation of minorities and its crucial role in creating a more compassionate and inclusive society.

However, as much as I like a party and would love to celebrate this news, like many people who deeply care about inclusion, social justice and equality, I have mixed feelings about Leo Varadkar being our next Taoiseach.

Extremely conservative values

The reason for this is because over the years I’ve found Leo Varadkar to be extremely conservative and right-wing in his values, especially for someone who is a member of multiple minorities due to his sexuality and his ethnic heritage.

In 2008, Varadkar suggested that foreign workers be paid to leave Ireland, in an effort to stop rising unemployment figures. Many thought this was rich coming from the son of a migrant.

Then in 2010, when there was cross-party support for the Civil Partnership Legislation as it passed through the Oireachtas, Varadkar spoke out against LGBT families and their suitability to raise children. Was this simply an expression of his own internalised homophobia as he still hadn’t come out?

Misleading and dangerous illusion

I think we need to be cautious about celebrating this news as I feel Varadkar’s political success has been mainly down to the fact that he has assimilated to the point where he has turned against minority groups.

This I think is dangerous, as it creates the illusion that Ireland is now a liberal, equal and inclusive country. This could encourage us to rest on our laurels and believe that everything is “grand”. Well, it’s not. We are far from everything being grand. Just this week a mosque in Galway was attacked.

Power of representation

Having said all that, I am mindful that my son’s generation will hopefully be inspired to run for politics when they see someone who is not your average straight white guy as our Taoiseach.

The news even reached Sri Lanka as my estranged father called me this week to say: “being gay in Ireland is normal now”. It’s tragic that he didn’t think being gay was normal when he came to visit me in Dublin last year, met my wife and held his only grandson in his arms for the first time. But it took a total stranger like Leo Varadkar to make my father finally utter the words: “being gay is normal”.

That is the power of representation. It can instantly melt away decades of prejudice, ignorance and intolerance. Well, here’s hoping that Varadkar will surprise us all and represent all the residents of Ireland equally, instead of stalling our endeavours for a compassionate and inclusive society.

Dil Wickremasinghe is a social justice and mental health broadcaster. She presents Global Village on Newstalk 106-108 FM every Saturday from  7 to 8pm and she is co-founder of Insight Matters – Inspiring change in self and society through personal development, psychotherapy and counselling. 

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