Leo Varadkar to step down as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader ahead of general election in Republic

Leo Varadkar is to step down as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader before the next general election in the Republic of Ireland.

He addressed the media on Wednesday following a cabinet meeting. Mr Varadkar said his tenure as Taoiseach had been “the most fulfilling time of my life”.

Visibly emotional he said his decision was both “personal and political”. “I believe this government can be re-elected and I believe my party, Fine Gael, can gain seats in the next poll,” he said. “Most of all I believe the re-election of this three-party government would be the right thing for the future of our country. “Continuing to take us forward, protecting all that has been achieved and building on it. “But, after careful consideration and some soul searching, I believe that a new taoiseach and a new leader will be better placed than me to achieve that, to renew and strengthen the team, to focus our message and policies, to drive implementation. “And, after seven years in office, I don’t feel I’m the best person for that job anymore.” Rishi Sunak praised Leo Varadkar for his “dedicated service” after the Taoiseach announced his plan to step down. Mr Sunak said he had worked closely with Mr Varadkar on a number of issues, including efforts to restore powersharing in Northern Ireland earlier this year. The Prime Minister thanked Mr Varadkar for his “dedicated service over the years”. “We’ve worked closely on a number of issues including the recent restoration of institutions in Northern Ireland,” he said. “My best wishes to him in the future and I look forward to working with his successor.” The announcement comes after a turbulent number of weeks for the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green Party coalition government.

It was resoundingly beaten in two referendums on changes ministers had proposed to the Irish constitution. The comprehensive defeats were a significant blow to Mr Varadkar and other coalition leaders who had campaigned for ‘yes yes’ votes in the plebiscites. 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. 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 for the first time on Wednesday 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 is currently serving his second term as Taoiseach. Mr Varadkar, who first became premier in 2017, once insisted he would not remain in politics beyond the age of 50, albeit he later said he regretted making that pledge. The son of an immigrant Indian doctor, he was elected Ireland's youngest and first gay Taoiseach at the age of 38. Previously he had been health minister.

A qualified doctor born and raised in Dublin, politics had always been an ambition of his from a very young age. He entered politics at the age of 27 in 2007 and becoming party leader 10 years later.

He was Taoiseach from 2017 to 2020 and was re-appointed in December 2022. He was previously Tanaiste (deputy prime minister) and the Minister for Enterprise Trade and Investment between June 2020 and December 2022 in the coalition government.

His resignation as Fine Gael leader is effective from today and he will step down as Taoiseach when a successor is selected.

The next general election must be held by early spring next year.

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