(Bloomberg) -- Leo Varadkar, who admits he “has been known to talk too much,” moved into pole position to become Ireland’s next prime minister, as a new generation prepared to take the helm of the nation’s economy.
Social Protection Minister Varadkar, 38, is rated as favorite by bookmakers in the race to elect a new leader of Fine Gael, the ruling party, by June 2 after Enda Kenny stepped down at midnight. His main rival will be Housing Minister Simon Coveney, 44, who declared his candidacy on Thursday.
The election of the openly gay Varadkar would be a generational and social change. Ireland, which voted to recognize same-sex marriage in 2015, was among the last European Union members to decriminalize homosexual activity. Still, whoever wins will probably follow Kenny’s path of gradually cutting taxes, narrowing the deficit and focusing on overseas investment after appointing a new finance minister to replace Michael Noonan, who said Thursday he would step down as well.
“We do not see this as an escalation of domestic political risk,” said Ryan McGrath, an analyst at Cantor Fitzgerald LP in Dublin. “The new leader of Fine Gael will be market-friendly.”
Noonan’s decision to resign will give the new leader scope to reshape his cabinet. The 73-year took office alongside Kenny, and together they oversaw the nation’s emergence from an international bailout program and restored economic stability. Spending Minister Paschal Donohoe, 42, will be among the contenders to replace him.
“I believe now is a good time for a new finance minister to take up office,” Noonan said. “Ireland is the fastest-growing economy in Europe, the budget is almost balanced and we are on the cusp of full employment. ”
A former health and tourism minister, Varadkar’s views have occasionally drawn fire, with a recent campaign calling on people to report welfare fraud criticized as divisive by opposition lawmakers.
“Pitting different sections of our society against each other is something that has been popular in the U.K. since the days of Margaret Thatcher, but it is mercifully something we have avoided in this country,” said Willie O’Dea, a spokesman for Fianna Fail, the nation’s largest opposition party.
The son of an Indian immigrant, Varadkar has long had his eyes set on high office. He told his mother he wanted to be health minister when he was 7, Varadkar said in an interview with broadcaster RTE in 2015.
“She was mortified, needless to say,” he said.
Varadkar carries odds of 1/5 to be the next leader, meaning a successful 5-euro ($5.57) bet would return winnings of 1 euro. His nearest rival, Coveney, is rated a 3/1 shot. The son of a former government minister, his brother is Patrick Coveney, chief executive of Greencore Plc. First elected in 2008, the Cork-native is a former agriculture minister, who broadly shares Varadkar’s policy views.
“Irrespective of who wins, we think ‘business as usual’ will be the real result,” said Philip O’Sullivan, an economist with Investec Plc in Dublin.