Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar steps down

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Ireland’s Leo Varadkar has announced he is stepping down as prime minister.

In an emotional statement delivered this afternoon outside Dublin’s Government Buildings, Mr Varadkar said his reasons for leaving were “both personal and political”.

He said he believed a new leader “will be better placed than me” to gain seats for his party Fine Gael in the next general election.

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Pic: PA

“After seven years in office, I don’t feel I’m the best person for the job anymore,” Mr Varadkar said.

“There are loyal colleagues and good friends contesting local and European elections, and I want to give them the best chance possible.”

He added: “On a personal level, I’ve enjoyed being Taoiseach. However, politicians are human beings and we have our limitations. We give it everything until we can’t anymore. And then we have to move on.”

Some signs Varadkar planned to step down after black eye for govt

As bombshells go, they managed to keep this one under the radar.

On a day when new assisted dying proposals were top of the Irish political agenda, Leo Varadkar decided to bring about the end of his premiership.

But some signs had been there.

Mr Varadkar was handed a humiliating defeat in twin referendums earlier this month, when the Irish people voted against redefining marriage and removing “sexist” language from the constitution.

His government’s proposals weren’t just rejected, they were trounced. The latter referendum received a massive 74% No vote, the highest in Irish history.

Grumblings within his Fine Gael party – which had been simmering over an exodus of sitting TDs (members of the Irish parliament) at the next election – were amplified hugely by the referendum fiasco.

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Mr Varadkar, 45, has led the Fine Gael party since 2017 and served as Taoiseach – Ireland’s prime minister – twice.

His first stint leading the country lasted from 2017 to 2020, before he took up the role of Tanaiste – deputy prime minister – from 2020 until December 2022.

He has been the Irish premier since then in a “rotating Taoiseach” agreement that underpinned his party’s coalition with Fianna Fail and the Green Party.

During his time in politics, he played a leading role in referendums to legalise same-sex marriage in 2015 and repeal a ban on abortion in 2018.

He was also a familiar figure in British politics during negotiations on Brexit.

File photo dated 9/9/2019 of Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Government Buildings during his visit to Dublin. Issue date: Wednesday March 20, 2024.
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Boris Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar during the Brexit negotiations in 2019. Pic: PA

Mr Varadkar became the first openly gay Taoiseach after he came out during the 2015 referendum.

He was also the youngest person to hold the office when he became Taoiseach aged 38.

After a party leadership contest, a new Taoiseach is set to be in place when the Dail – Irish parliament – returns after Easter. He will remain as a member of parliament for the Dublin West constituency.

Analysis: There were signs Varadkar planned to step down

His departure does not automatically trigger a general election, which must be held by March 2025.

But Ireland’s political parties are facing local government and European Parliament elections in June.

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Mr Varadkar had also been under pressure after 10 Fine Gael TDs – members of parliament – announced over the last year that they intend to step away from politics at the next general election.

Tanaiste Micheal Martin paid tribute to Mr Varadkar, adding he was “very surprised” about his resignation which he was informed about on Tuesday evening.

 Micheal Martin
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Micheal Martin in December. Pic: PA

“We got on very well. We had a strong personal relationship which I think was important in terms of the continuity and stability of the government.

“I want to take this opportunity to wish him the very best in his personal life and in his career into the future,” he said.

But Mr Martin dismissed the idea of calling a general election, saying: “From my perspective, from my party’s perspective, we are going to fulfil our mandate.

“We will work with the newly elected leader of the Fine Gael party in terms of continuing the coalition.

“I’ve been very consistent from the very beginning that my view is the government should go full term and that remains my position as of today.”

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Mr Varadkar had also just returned from the United States where he was involved in several high-profile engagements with President Joe Biden as part of traditional St Patrick’s Day celebrations.

His announcement comes as the Irish government was defeated in twin referendums earlier this month.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) at a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, during his visit to the US for St Patrick's Day. Picture date: Friday March 15, 2024.
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Leo Varadkar at a bilateral meeting with President Joe Biden at the White House last week. Pic: PA

Almost 74% of voters rejected a care amendment, which proposed removing references to a woman’s “life within the home” and mothers’ “duties in the home” when providing care, replacing them with an article acknowledging the importance of family members in general, without defining them by gender.

Some 67.7% of voters rejected a second amendment, which had proposed extending the meaning of “family” beyond marriage in the constitution, instead including households based on “durable” relationships.

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