Leo Varadkar unlikely to continue as leader following Ireland’s general election

Leo Varadkar general election

Ireland’s gay leader Leo Varadkar is unlikely to continue as Taoiseach following the weekend’s general election, early results indicate.

The Republic of Ireland went to the polls on Saturday, February 8, after a bitter and fast-paced election campaign which saw a huge resurgence in support for left-wing party Sinn Féin.

An Irish Times exit poll on Saturday night predicted that the three main parties – Varadkar’s Fine Gael as well as Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin – were all on an equal footing. So far, Sinn Féin has won 32 seats, followed by the country’s two centre-right parties Fianna Fáil (17) and Fine Gael (14).

Sinn Féin’s dramatic surge has seen them move from a minor opposition party to a major contender for government. However, because the party’s success was not predicted or expected, they did not field enough candidates to win an overall majority.

Fianna Fáil is now likely to become the biggest party in the state, with leader Michéal Martin most likely to become the country’s next Taoiseach.

Leo Varadkar became the first sitting Taoiseach in the history of the state to not top the poll in his constituency.

While Varadkar’s chances of continuing as Taoiseach are looking slim, his fate will not be decided until the final results roll in. Just over half of the seats in Ireland’s 33rd Dáil have been filled at the time of writing.

Under the Republic of Ireland’s proportional representation voting system, candidates are eliminated and their votes redistributed to those remaining. Fine Gael could yet stand to benefit substantially from transfer votes.

Varadkar has mirrored his party’s poor performance. He was elected yesterday on the fifth count in Dublin West, making him the first sitting Taoiseach in the history of the state to not top the poll in his constituency.

Notably, he was beaten to Dublin West’s first seat by Sinn Féin’s Paul Donnelly, who was elected on the first count.

Varadkar, who came out as gay in 2015 ahead of Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum, has ruled out forming a coalition with Sinn Féin.

Fine Gael’s performance was impacted by social issues including housing and health.

His party’s poor election performance follows a turbulent time in government which saw the deepening of Ireland’s housing and homelessness crisis. Housing became a major issue in the election, with polls showing a significant drop-off in support for the party among young voters.

Fine Gael was also impacted by a number of other issues in the country’s health service and controversy over the pension age.

Varadkar is, as of now, one of just three openly gay world leaders – but if Fine Gael continues its current trajectory, that number is likely to drop to two.

Varadkar came out as gay in 2015 in an interview on RTÉ Radio 1 ahead of Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum.