Indian-origin Leo Varadkar becomes Ireland's youngest and first gay PM

Leo Varadkar, son of a migrant Indian doctor and an Irish mother, was on Wednesday sworn in as the prime minister of Ireland, Europe's fastest-growing economy, succeeding Enda Kenny as leader of the governing Fine Gael party.

Naradkar, 38, has also become the first gay premier and the youngest person to hold office in the once-staunchly Catholic country of 4.6 million people that only decriminalised homosexuality in 1993 and legalised divorce two years later.

Varadkar faces the immediate challenges of neighbouring Britain's exit from the European Union, a political crisis in Northern Ireland and a housing crisis at home.

His colleagues in the Fine Gael party, however, is pinning hopes on the straight talking Varadkar, who they believe can widen their appeal in elections that may be triggered as soon as next year.

"Enda Kenny`s leadership enabled me to become an equal citizen in my own country two short years ago and to aspire to hold this office, an aspiration I once thought was beyond my reach, at least if I chose to be myself," Varadkar said in reference to Ireland`s 2015 vote to legalise gay marriage.

"The government I lead will not be one of left or right. The government I lead will be one of the new European centre as we seek to build a Republic of opportunity, that is a Republic in which every citizen gets a fair go and in which every part of the country stands to share in our prosperity."

"As the country`s youngest holder of this office, he speaks for a new generation of Irish women and Irish men, he represents a modern, diverse and inclusive Ireland and speaks for them like no other," Kenny told Parliament, nominating his successor.

Varadkar, the former health, tourism and social protection minister, will, however, face scrutiny of his policies at home with opponents warning that he would nudge the party further to the right.

The new prime minister has lowered debt reduction target from levels set by Kenny`s government last year and plans to lobby the European Union for additional leeway to free up more funding for badly needed infrastructure projects.

He expects Northern Ireland, a British province, to remain in the EU`s single market and retain access to as many EU programmes as possible to ensure a soft Brexit.