We look back at the career of Leo Varadkar, Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach (Prime Minister) who stepped down from office yesterday leaving a legacy of progress behind.

In an era where visibility and representation are pivotal to the LGBTQ+ community’s journey towards equality, Leo Varadkar stands out as a remarkable figure of progress. As Ireland’s first openly gay Taoiseach, Varadkar’s ascent to one of the highest political offices in the land is not just a personal triumph but a monumental milestone for LGBTQ+ individuals everywhere.

Varadkar’s tenure as Taoiseach, spanning from June 2017 to December 2022, was a historic period that resonated well beyond the shores of Ireland, inspiring countless individuals around the globe. His leadership, characterized by a forward-thinking approach and a commitment to social justice, has been instrumental in ushering in a new era of inclusivity and diversity in politics.


During his time in office, Varadkar spearheaded several key initiatives and policies that have left an indelible mark on Ireland and showcased his commitment to progress:

  • Healthcare Reform: With a background as a general practitioner, Varadkar was deeply invested in improving Ireland’s healthcare system. He initiated significant reforms aimed at increasing access to medical care and reducing waiting times, ensuring a more efficient and patient-centric healthcare experience.
  • Economic Growth: Under Varadkar’s leadership, Ireland experienced robust economic growth, with a focus on sustainable development and job creation. His policies contributed to a decrease in unemployment rates and positioned Ireland as a leading tech hub in Europe, attracting global tech giants and fostering innovation.
  • LGBTQ+ Rights: Varadkar was instrumental in advancing LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland, using his platform to advocate for equality and inclusivity. His tenure saw the implementation of policies that supported the LGBTQ+ community, including improvements in legal recognition and protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.
  • Climate Action: Recognizing the urgent need for environmental sustainability, Varadkar committed Ireland to ambitious climate action plans. His government worked towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in renewable energy, setting the stage for Ireland’s proactive role in addressing global climate challenges.

Facing Challenges

Despite these achievements, Varadkar’s tenure was not without its challenges. Among the most pressing issues were:

  • Housing Crisis: Ireland faced a significant housing shortage and soaring property prices, leading to increased homelessness and housing insecurity for many citizens. Efforts to address these concerns often met with complexities and public frustration over the pace of change.
  • Brexit Negotiations: The UK’s exit from the European Union posed a unique set of challenges for Ireland, particularly regarding the Northern Ireland border. Varadkar’s government was pivotal in these discussions, striving to maintain a delicate balance between EU obligations and the unique needs of Ireland.
  • Healthcare System Strains: While healthcare reform was a key focus, the system continued to face strains, including hospital overcrowding and long waiting lists for certain treatments, reflecting the challenges of transforming a national healthcare system.

Where Ireland Stands Now

As Varadkar stepped down, Ireland stood at a crossroads, with ongoing debates about how to tackle these enduring issues while maintaining the progress achieved in recent years. The country continues to navigate the complexities of a post-Brexit Europe, the global challenge of climate change, and social issues like housing and healthcare reform. The political landscape is evolving, with new leadership poised to build on Varadkar’s legacy and address the challenges that remain.

For the LGBTQ+ community in New Zealand and across the world, Leo Varadkar represents the possibilities that await when barriers are broken, and ceilings are shattered. His story is a testament to the power of representation and the importance of having LGBTQ+ voices in all levels of governance and public life.

The news of Varadkar stepping down from his role marks the end of a significant chapter in Ireland’s political history but also signifies the lasting legacy of his tenure. From June 2017 to December 2022, Varadkar not only led with dignity and grace but also became an enduring symbol of progress for LGBTQ+ communities worldwide.