Leo Varadkar: Irish Prime Minister and Fine Gael party leader to step down

Leo Varadkar: Irish Prime Minister and Fine Gael party leader to step down

Leo Varadkar will step down as Ireland’s prime minister and the leader of the governing Fine Gael party for “personal and political” reasons.

His surprise departure as head of the three-party coalition does not automatically trigger a general election and he is set to be replaced by a new Fine Gael leader.

The announcement comes ahead of local government and European parliament elections in Ireland in June. The next general election must be held by early spring next year.

Varadkar in 2017 became the first gay prime minister of the once-staunchly Catholic country and the youngest person to hold the office. He returned to the premiership in 2022.

He is currently serving his second term as Taoiseach. Mr Varadkar once insisted he would not remain in politics beyond the age of 50, albeit he later said he regretted making that pledge.

The announcement comes after a few turbulent weeks for the coalition government, which was resoundingly beaten in two referendums on changes ministers had proposed to the Irish constitution.

(Getty Images)

The comprehensive defeats were a significant blow to Mr Varadkar and other coalition leaders who had campaigned for ‘yes yes’ votes in the plebiscites.

Over the last year, ten Fine Gael TDs have announced their intention to step away from politics at the general election, fuelling speculation of internal discontent within the party.

Cabinet ministers met in Dublin on Wednesday for the first time since the referenda defeats.

Mr Varadkar, 45, has 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.

He had told the president it is possible “to be for Israel and for Palestine” during a speech at a White House event.

He said the Irish people are “deeply troubled” by what is happening in Gaza because “we see our history in their eyes” through forced emigration, a denied identity and hunger.

But the Taoiseach also said “we also see Israel’s history reflected in our eyes” through a diaspora “whose heart never left home” and had a nation and language revived.

He said that lessons can be learned from the peace process in Northern Ireland “particularly the concept of parity of esteem” and the key role of the United States.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and US President Joe Biden during the St Patrick’s Day Reception and Shamrock Ceremony in the the East Room of the White House, Washington DC, during his visit to the US for St Patrick’s Day (Niall Carson/PA)

(PA Wire)

Mr Biden, who often celebrates his Irish heritage, paid tribute to immigrants who left Ireland for the US during his speech: “The Irish spirit can never be overcome.”

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