Leo Varadkar announces shock resignation as Taoiseach and Fine Gael leader

Leo Varadkar Announces Shock Resignation As Taoiseach And Fine Gael Leader
In an emotional address outside Government Buildings in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said leading the country had been the “most fulfilling time” of his life, but that now was as “good a time as any” to step down. Photo: PA
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Leo Varadkar has announced he will step down as Taoiseach and leader of Fine Gael.

In an emotional address outside Government Buildings in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said leading the country had been the “most fulfilling time” of his life, but that now was as “good a time as any” to step down.


“I am resigning as president and leader of Fine Gael effective today and will resign as the Taoiseach as soon as my successor is able to take up that office,” Mr Varadkar told reporters.

He is expected to remain in place until his party has elected a successor, which it is hoped will be completed by the party’s ardfheis in early April. The Dáil will then elect the new Fine Gael leader as taoiseach.

The announcement was a shock to many, including Mr Varadkar's Coalition partners. Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the decision to resign had surprised him, but insisted it would not prompt an early general election.

A visibly emotional Mr Varadkar 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.”


The shock at the announcement has not been confined to these shores, with news organisations around the world giving significant coverage to Mr Varadkar's announcement.


Northern Ireland First Minister Michelle O’Neill said Leo Varadkar’s resignation should trigger a general election in the Republic of Ireland.

“It’s not a time for a rearranging of the deckchairs,” the Sinn Féin vice president told reporters in Belfast.


“And, ultimately, it’s for the people to decide who will be the taoiseach.

“So I think it’s now over to the people, there should be an election, people should have a chance to pass their verdict, particularly after 13 years of Fine Gael in power, 13 years of failure on their part, 13 years of failure to build houses, 13 years of failure to support people through the cost of living crisis. So, ultimately, what we now need to see is an election.”

DUP deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly referred to Mr Varadkar’s often tense relationship with unionism.

“I think it’s fair to say that Leo Varadkar and unionism didn’t see eye to eye very often at all,” she said. “But, of course, you know, I do wish him all the very best as he has stepped down today.”


President Michael D Higgins was informed about Leo Varadkar’s decision shortly before his press conference.

The two men spoke on the phone immediately after Mr Varadkar’s public address.

A spokesperson for the president said it was a “substantive conversation”.

“Over the course of this, the president thanked the Taoiseach for his service and for the comprehensive Article 28 meetings (meetings where the Taoiseach keeps the president informed on domestic and international policy) which they have had over the course of the Taoiseach’s two terms in office.

“They are due to have a further Article 28 meeting before the Taoiseach leaves office, when they will have an opportunity to discuss a number of issues.

“Their most recent Article 28 meeting was immediately prior to the Taoiseach’s departure to the United States for St Patrick’s Day.”


Green Party leader Eamon Ryan has thanked Leo Varadkar for “his work and his honesty” in setting aside differences with the party during the current coalition government.

“I would just like to wish the Taoiseach the very best of luck in whatever comes next,” he said outside Government Buildings.

“I think his few words here an hour ago were honest, were succinct and were true – that it’s for personal and political reasons he’s decided to step down as leader of Fine Gael.

“That will mean we as a government will have to nominate a new Taoiseach subject to Fine Gael concluding their leadership election and we will do that. I thought the Taoiseach’s words were quite emotional. Certainly I think anyone listening to it could sense that emotion in his voice and that’s really understandable.

“I felt it as well because we’ve worked well together, particularly in the last four years.”

Leader of The Green Party, Eamon Ryan TD speaking to reporters outside Government Buildings. Photo: Collins

Mr Ryan has paid tribute to Leo Varadkar, describing the outgoing premier as “an energetic and committed leader”.

In a statement, Mr Ryan said: “I would like to offer my sincere thanks to Leo Varadkar for his work as Taoiseach.

“He has been an energetic and committed leader of the country who was always supportive of his government colleagues.

“It’s worth noting that the agreement at the start of this Government was between the three coalition parties, not the three leaders. That agreement stands, particularly in light of the important work that this Government has to do.

“The Green Party looks forward to the conclusion of the Fine Gael leadership contest and the election of a new Taoiseach by Dáil Eireann.

“In the interim, the important work of Government continues, and the three coalition parties will continue to fulfil our mandate, just as we have done over the last three and a half years.

“I would like to offer my good wishes to Leo as he prepares to depart the Taoiseach’s office. He has served the country well and can be proud of the contribution he has made to Irish political life.”


Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said Leo Varadkar’s decision to resign had surprised him, but insisted it would not prompt an early general election, as he restated his determination that the three-party coalition would serve a full term.

“To be honest, I’m surprised obviously when I heard what he was going to do, but I want to take the opportunity to thank him sincerely,” Mr Martin said.

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

“And I want to take this opportunity again to wish Leo the very best in his personal life and in his career into the future.

“Could I further say from my perspective, this is a coalition of three parties, not personalities, and I remain committed to the continuation of government, to the fulfilment of our mandate and to the implementation of the programme for government.

“There are still very serious issues to deal with – housing, education, health, climate, energy.”

The Tanaiste said: “So 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, and 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 – a lot of work to be done, and we’re going to continue to focus on getting that work done.”

Mr Varadkar said it was the right time for him to step down and that there was no "real reason" behind his decision.

“I have nothing else lined up, I have nothing in mind. I have no definite personal or political plans,” he said.

The announcement comes after a turbulent number of weeks for the Coalition Government.

It was resoundingly beaten in two referendums on changes Ministers had proposed to the Constitution.

The comprehensive defeats were a significant blow to Mr Varadkar and other Coalition leaders who had campaigned for “Yes Yes” votes in the referendums.

Mr Varadkar's resignation comes after a turbulent number of weeks for the Government. Photo: Nick Bradshaw/PA

Mr Varadkar (45) first assumed the office of Taoiseach in June 2017, becoming the youngest person to hold the office. He has been a Fine Gael TD for the Dublin West constituency since 2007.

The departure of Mr Varadkar is likely to lead to calls for an early general election.

According to The Irish Times, Mr Varadkar informed senior Fine Gael colleagues on Tuesday and the leaders of the Coalition parties, Micheál Martin and Eamon Ryan, on Tuesday evening.

Leo Varadkar became taoiseach aged 38 in 2017. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Since last year, 10 Fine Gael TDs have said that they will not contest the next general election, with the latest, Ciaran Cannon, announcing his decision on Tuesday.

John Paul Phelan, Michael Creed, Richard Bruton, Brendan Griffin, Joe McHugh, Fergus O’Dowd, David Stanton, Charlie Flanagan and Paul Kehoe have all made similar announcements.

Contenders to succeed Mr Varadkar as Fine Gael leader include Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris, who was health minister during the early phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister for Enterprise Simon Coveney, Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe and Minister for Justice Helen McEntee.

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