'I'm not the best person for the job': Leo Varadkar to step down as Irish prime minister and party leader

20 March 2024, 12:00 | Updated: 20 March 2024, 12:33

Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach of Ireland Leo Varadkar. Picture: Getty
Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Leo Varadkar has announced he will step down as Irish prime minister and party leader before the next election.

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Varadkar became Ireland's youngest Taoiseach seven years ago when he became leader of Fine Gael.

In an announcement this afternoon, Varadkar said being Taoiseach has been the "most fulfilling time of my life".

The announcement comes after a turbulent number of weeks for the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green Party coalition government.

A visibly emotional Leo 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."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the United States last week
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the United States last week. Picture: Getty

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.

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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.

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.

Varadkar currently leads the coalition government in Dublin, which also includes Fianna Fáil and the Greens.

He had led his party, Fine Gael, since 2017 and served as Taoiseach - which is Ireland's prime minister - on two occasions.

His first period in office was between 2017 and 2020. He then went on to become Ireland's deputy prime minister - known as the Tanaiste - before becoming Taoiseach again.

A new Taoiseach will be appointed when the Dail returns after Easter.

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