Leo Varadkar resigns as taoiseach and Fine Gael leader

He says decision is both ‘personal and political’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach visit to the US Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stepped down as taoiseach (Niall Carson/PA)

Leo Varadkar has announced that he is stepping down as taoiseach and Fine Gael leader.

He has been head of the Irish government since December 2022, having previously served as taoiseach from 2017-2020.

The announcement, which comes in what is widely expected to be an election year, has sent shockwaves across Irish political circles.

His resignation comes weeks after the coalition government suffered a setback with a resounding defeat in the referendums on family and care.

A visibly emotional Mr Varadkar told a press conference it was “good as time as any” to leave office.

He said his decision was both “personal and political”, adding that politicians “are human beings” and therefore have limitations.

“We give it everything until we can’t anymore and then we have to move on,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he was leaving with the country in a good place.

“There are loyal colleagues and good friends contesting local European elections and I want to give them the best chance possible and I think they’ve a better chance under a new leader,” he said.

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

“On a personal level, I’ve enjoyed being Taoiseach, leader and cabinet member since March 2011. I’ve learned so much about so many things, met so many people who I’d never have got to meet, been to places I’d have never seen both home and abroad and I am deeply grateful for it. And, despite the challenges, would wholeheartedly recommend a career in politics to anyone who’s considering it.

“However, politicians are human beings and we have our limitations. We give it everything until we can’t anymore and then we have to move on.

“I will of course continue to fulfil my duties as Taoiseach until a new one is elected and will remain as consistency TD for Dublin West.

“I know inevitably there’ll be speculation as to the quote unquote ‘real reason’ for my decision. These are the real reasons. That’s it. I have nothing else lined up, I have nothing in mind, I have no definite personal or political plans, but I’m really looking forward to having the time to think about them.”

Mr Varadkar thanked his fellow coalition leaders and his party colleagues for their support.

“Most of all, I want to finish by thanking the people of Ireland for giving me the opportunity to serve them,” he said.

“And I’ll promise I’ll keep working for Ireland and my community in any way I can in future.”

Mr Varadkar was applauded by Fine Gael ministerial colleagues as he finished his speech and walked back into Government Buildings.

The 45-year-old, who is the son of an Indian-born doctor and Co Waterford-born mother, has said he will stay on as taoiseach until Fine Gael elects a new leader.

Potential successors include Paschal Donohoe, Simon Harris, Simon Coveney and Heather Humphreys.

Mr Varadkar became Ireland’s youngest taoiseach in 2017 when he became leader of Fine Gael.

First elected to the Dáil in 2007, Mr Varadkar has served as tánaiste and health minister.

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 Tánaiste added: “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.”

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Mr Varadkar had “served our country with honour and integrity”.

“Having taken office at a fractious moment in the politics of our island and during a period of turbulence in the British/Irish relationship, he has undoubtedly played an important role providing encouragement and support for the north,” he said.

“During two periods of difficulty for devolution, the Taoiseach worked hard to support the restoration of the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. Beyond warm words of encouragement, he has committed measurable resource to critical projects in the North that will bring communities closer together.”