Trailblazing gay Irish leader Leo Varadkar steps down in shock move 

DUBLIN, IRELAND - DECEMBER 17: Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar waves as he is congratulated by party members after being nominated as Taoiseach at Leinster House on December 17, 2022 in Dublin, Ireland. Leo Varadkar who previously held the post will take over as the newly appointed Taoiseach from Micheal Martin as part of a coalition agreement between the two political parties, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael following the last election which resulted in a hung government. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar has announced that he is standing down from the position and resigning as Fine Gael party leader. 

Varadkar, who is the youngest and first out gay leader of the country, announced the decision at a press conference in Dublin on Wednesday (20 March) in which he said leading the country was “the most fulfilling time of my life”.

He cited “personal and political” reasons for stepping back from his role and said in an emotional statement that “one part of leadership is knowing when the time has come to pass on the baton to somebody else”. 

“That time is now,’ the 45-year-old taoiseach said on the steps of the government building in Dublin, “So I am resigning as president and leader of Fine Gael effective today and will resign as taoiseach as soon as my successor is able to take up that office.”

During the press conference, he said he is “proud” that the country is a “more equal and more modern place when it comes to the rights of children, the LGBT community, equality for women and their bodily autonomy”.

Varadkar said he believes the government – which is currently a coalition with Fianna Fáil and the Green Party – can be reelected and Fine Gael will gain seats in the next Dáil. 

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“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 on policies, to drive implementation. 

“And after seven years in office, I don’t feel I’m the best person for that job any more,” he told reporters. 

First Minister of Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill (L), and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, Emma Little-Pengelly (R), greet Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (C) (Charles McQuillan/Getty Images)

British prime minister Rishi Sunak thanked Varadkar on X/Twitter 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.

“My best wishes to him in the future and I look forward to working with his successor,” the Tory leader said.

Scotland’s leader Humza Yousaf also expressed his sentiments on social media, saying he wishes the Irish PM the “best for the future”.

“I am grateful to the Taoiseach @LeoVaradkar for his commitment to strengthening the bonds of friendship between Ireland and Scotland. I am also grateful for his strong global leadership in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza,” Yousaf wrote.

In a statement, Green Party leader Eamon Ryan described Varadkar as “an energetic and committed leader” who was “always supportive of his government colleagues”.

Varadkar has had two spells as Ireland’s leader, firstly between 2017 and 2020 and secondly from 2022.

Leo Varadkar’s partner

Prime Minister of Ireland Leo Varadkar (R) attends the 2018 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade on March 17, 2018 in New York City with partner Matt (L). (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Mr Varadkar has been with his partner Dr Matthew Barrett, a consultant cardiologist, since 2015.

In 2021, the couple were forced to move out of their house after receiving “homophobic” death threats from the far right. They reportedly advised to leave their home in Castleknock, Dublin, by Ireland’s police force as threats escalated and moved to a more secure location.

In 2018, Leo Varadkar and his partner marched in New York St Patrick’s Day Parade – which had previously banned LGBTQ+ groups.