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Ireland’s First Openly Gay Prime Minister Leo Varadkar Quits

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Ireland's First Openly Gay Prime Minister Leo Varadkar Quits

Ireland’s prime minister Leo Varadkar unexpectedly announced on Wednesday that he was standing down claiming that the country’s coalition government would have a greater chance of reelection under a new leader.

Varadkar’s Fine Gael party will accept nominations for a new leader on Thursday, with the results announced on April 5. Parliament would then vote on who will follow Varadkar as prime minister when it returns from Easter holiday on April 9.

Varadkar’s surprise exit, after becoming the first openly gay prime minister of the once-staunchly Catholic country in 2017 and returning to the premiership only 15 months ago, does not result in a general election. The vote must take place by March 2025.

“My reasons for stepping down are both personal and political,” Varadkar, 45, addressed a hurriedly scheduled news conference at government offices in Dublin, sounding upset.

“But after careful consideration, and some soul searching, I believe that a new Taoiseach (prime minister) and a new leader will be better placed than me to achieve (the coalition government’s re-election).”

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Simon Harris most likely successor

His successor will have a year to try to recoup the significant opinion poll gap that both Fine Gael and its largest coalition partner Fianna Fail have with the main opposition Sinn Fein party, the former political wing of the Irish Republican Army.

Polls suggest that the present three-party coalition has a possibility of being re-elected, albeit Fine Gael will be without roughly one-third of its sitting legislators, who have stated that they will not seek re-election.

Bookmaker Paddy Power has named 37-year-old Higher Education Minister Simon Harris, who was health minister during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the obvious choice to succeed Varadkar.

Other candidates are Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Justice Minister Helen McEntee. Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney, a former deputy prime minister who lost to Varadkar in the 2017 leadership contest, has ruled himself out.

In a weighted vote, Fine Gael’s 54 legislators account for 65% of the electorate, implying that a candidate can swiftly gain traction with public support from colleagues. Party members and local councillors compete for the remaining votes.

“The problem is that there is no natural stand out; one of the problems of being in power for so long is that all of them come with the baggage of longevity in office,” said David Farrell, a political science professor at University College Dublin.

“Harris probably has the advantage. He’s an excellent communicator who could make a difference in the election.
‘No Political Plans’

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People Protest asylum seekers in Ireland

Varadkar’s government has overseen a rapid economic recovery from the pandemic, but it has struggled to address a decade-long housing issue and, more recently, the burden on services from record numbers of asylum seekers and Ukrainian refugees.

He also led Ireland through Brexit negotiations and the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, and Ireland voted to repeal an abortion restriction under his leadership. Varadkar revealed publicly that he was gay in a radio broadcast during the 2015 referendum campaign that successfully legalized same-sex marriage.

However, he suffered a humiliating setback this month when a significant majority of voters rejected proposals to replace constitutional references to a mother’s “duties in the home“.

The leaders of Varadkar’s coalition partners expressed surprise when he informed them of his plans at a usual weekly meeting on Tuesday, adding that they would both work with his successor to carry out the government’s agenda.

Regardless of who becomes prime minister, the coalition’s policy agenda will remain unchanged.

A tiny gathering gathered outside the gates of government offices as Varadkar made his remarks. As Varadkar spoke, officials, including a junior minister from the Green Party, peered out open windows onto the courtyard of government buildings.

He was in Washington last weekend, when he met with US President Joe Biden to commemorate St. Patrick’s Day and discuss issues such as the Israel-Hamas conflict and the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

He stated that it was the appropriate time for him to step down, that he had nothing else lined up, and that there was no “real reason” for his decision.

“Policians are human beings. We have limits. “We give it our all until we can’t anymore, and then we have to move on,” he said.

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