Europe

Ireland profile - Leaders

President: Michael D Higgins

Irish President Michael D Higgins Image copyright AFP
Image caption Michael D Higgins is a poet and politician

Michael D Higgins, a veteran left-wing politician and human rights activist was elected president in 2011.

He is a former Galway university lecturer and published poet who has dedicated his four-decade political career to championing Irish culture and left-wing causes worldwide. He is an Irish speaker.

He also is also one of Ireland's most instantly recognized politicians, in part because of his short stature and much-imitated high voice.

Mr Higgins has served as a member of both houses of parliament in the Labour Party at various times, and was minister of the arts in the 1990s.

The Irish president wields little power beyond the ability to refer potentially unconstitutional legislation to the Supreme Court, but has an important symbolic role in representing Ireland at the national and international level.

Prime Minister (Taoiseach): Leo Varadkar

Image copyright PAULO NUNES DOS SANTOS/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Leo Varadkar is Ireland's youngest prime minister

A doctor of part-Indian parentage, Leo Varadkar was elected leader of the centre-right Fine Gael party in June 2017, on the resignation of Enda Kenny. He succeeded Mr Kenny as head of a minority government later in the month.

He became a party activist while still at school, and served as a county councillor until being elected to parliament in 2007.

He was minister of transport, health and later social protection in Fine Gael governments in 2011-2017, and beat Simon Coveney to the party leadership when Mr Kenny stepped down after six years as prime minister.

Mr Varadkar, born in 1979, is Ireland's youngest prime minister, and is also the country's first openly gay party leader, not to mention the first of Indian heritage.

He has promised to "re-energise" the government, but is not expected to introduced any major changes in policy. His main tasks will be to manage the implications for Ireland of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

Mr Kenny's tenure as prime minister saw the turnaround the economy after the 2008 banking crisis, and some liberalisation of the abortion laws.