Ireland elects first openly gay Prime Minister

Varadkar, who is younger than Emmanuel Macron, will be the first person of colour to lead a European nation and the first homosexual to lead Ireland - a Catholic nation where gay sex was illegal until 1993.

Mr Varadkar won the backing of 35 percent of rank and file members compared to 65 percent who voted for Mr Coveney. "The gutter is Bertie Ahern's natural habitat", he said of one of Ireland's former prime ministers, as cited by the Irish Independent.

"Speaking after the final votes were tallied in Dublin, Varadkar said he was delighted, humbled and honoured to win", the newspaper reports.

"If my election today shows anything, it is that prejudice has no hold in this Republic", Varadkar said after his victory, according to The Globe and Mail. "I'm ready for those challenges, as are we as a party".

He said restoring devolution in Northern Ireland and dealing with Brexit would be immediate priorities.

"Let that be our mission", Varadkar said, "to build in Ireland a republic of opportunity, one in which every individual is given the opportunity to meet their full potential, and every part of the country is given its opportunity to share in our prosperity".

"It is a special place and we would like to work with the new executive when it is formed to define what that is".

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Varadkar on Friday [Saturday NZ Time] defeated rival Simon Coveney in a contest to replace Enda Kenny, who resigned last month.

Ireland's governing Fine Gael party is counting ballots in a leadership election that will determine the country's likely next prime minister.

Fine Gael's 21,000 rank-and-file members had 25% of the vote, and 235 local representatives had 10%.

Varadkar, previously in charge of the welfare system, came out as openly gay in 2015 before the same-sex marriage referendum.

The Fine Gael leadership race and with it the fight to be taoiseach began in earnest in the middle of May after Mr Kenny confirmed the long-awaited date for his departure. That's expected to happen later this month.

He is also the youngest Taoiseach in the history of the State and will now take over from the departing Enda Kenny, who stepped down after becoming the longest serving Taoiseach in the history of the Fine Gael party.

Varadkar has been criticized, however, for not moving quickly enough to repeal Ireland's ban on abortion, which was reinforced in 1983, when 67 percent of the country voted to amend Ireland's constitution, giving a fetus the same right to life as its mother.

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