Leo Varadkar to step down as Ireland's prime minister

Fine Gael party leader, who first came to power in 2017, said his reasons for quitting were 'personal and political'

Leo Varadkar standing down as Ireland's prime minister

Leo Varadkar standing down as Ireland's prime minister
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Ireland's Leo Varadkar announced on Wednesday he will step down as Taoiseach in a surprise move that paves the way for a new prime minister to take office in mid-April.

Mr Varadkar addressed media at noon in the courtyard of the government buildings in Dublin to announce his resignation, saying his stint in government “was the most fulfilling time of his life”.

He said he would step down as leader of the centre-right Fine Gael party but would stay on as premier until a successor is elected.

He said Ireland had become a more “progressive” place while he was the premier.

“I know this will come as a surprise to many people and a disappointment to some, and I hope at least you will understand my decision," Mr Varadkar said.

“I believe this government can be re-elected and I believe my party, Fine Gael, can gain seats in the next general election.

“I am standing aside in the absolute confidence that the country and the economy are in a good place and that my colleagues and government from all three parties, Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and the Greens … will continue to work hard for the nation's best interests.”

There is never a right time to step down from office, but this is as good as any other, he said.

A visibly emotional Mr Varadkar said his decision was both “personal and political”.

“After seven years in office I don't feel I'm the best person for the job any more,” he added.

Leo Varadkar - in pictures

His resignation will not automatically trigger a general election as he leads a three-party coalition with Fianna Fail and the Green Party. The next general election must be held by early spring next year.

Mr Varadkar, 45, has been highly critical of Israel's actions in Gaza since the outbreak of the latest conflict on October 7.

He was recently in Washington, DC for St Patrick's Day where he discussed the conflict with US President Joe Biden and US Vice President Kamala Harris.

During his speech at the White House, Mr Varadkar said it was possible "to be for both Israel and Palestine" and emphasised the need for a Palestinian state.

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 US.

“I believe it is possible to be for Israel and for Palestine and I believe you do too," he said.

“Because the life of a Palestinian child is equal to that of an Israeli one.

“And the aspiration of the Palestinian people to have a homeland, and a fully-fledged state, in the land of their forefathers is equal to that of Israel’s.”

Simon Coveney, one of the early frontrunners to replace Mr Varadkar as Fine Gael leader, has a strong track record on recognising a Palestinian state, particularly during his time as foreign affairs minister.

The announcement comes after a turbulent time for the coalition after it was resoundingly beaten in two referendums on changes ministers had proposed to the Irish constitution.

Mr Varadkar had two spells as Taoiseach, between 2017 and 2020, and again since December 2022 as part of a job-share with Micheal Martin, head of Fianna Fail.

His government has overseen a sharp economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic but has struggled to tackle a decade-long housing crisis and more recently the pressure on services from record numbers of asylum seekers and Ukrainian refugees.

Born in Ireland in 1979, Mr Varadkar initially followed in his Indian father's footsteps by studying medicine, but later decided to enter politics full time.

Mr Varadkar once insisted he would not remain in politics beyond the age of 50, but later said he regretted making that pledge.

He is one of three major leaders in Britain and Ireland with Asian heritage, alongside Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Former senior Ulster Unionist Lord Kilclooney’s description of Mr Varadkar as a "typical Indian" in 2018 showed that challenges for minority ethnic politicians remain.

His resignation comes on the same day as Vaughan Gething was officially nominated as Wales's First Minister, succeeding Mark Drakeford, who had held the position since 2018.

Zambia-born Mr Gething is the first black politician to hold the role of leader of a European country.

Updated: March 20, 2024, 3:13 PM