Leo Varadkar

by Philip Ryan
Nick Ballon for TIME

When Ireland finally decriminalized homosexuality in 1993, the Catholic Church still had a firm grip on the state’s affairs. Divorce was illegal, and its abortion laws were deeply entrenched as some of the most conservative in the West. Twenty-five years on, Ireland is a very different place—symbolized by the rise of its new leader, Leo Varadkar. The openly gay son of an Indian immigrant, Varadkar decided to come out publicly in the run-up to the world’s first marriage-equality referendum. Today the once anti-abortion politician is campaigning to significantly liberalize the country’s abortion laws.

Varadkar is now at the center of E.U. negotiations on Brexit, which could have a devastating impact on Ireland’s peace and prosperity. He also faces a major housing and homelessness crisis. The country’s youngest-ever Taoiseach will be judged on how he guides his nation through these challenges.

Ryan is the political correspondent for the Sunday Independent and co-author of Leo: A Very Modern Taoiseach

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