Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has surprisingly announced his resignation. In an emotional statement in Dublin, the liberal-conservative politician cited “both personal and political reasons.” The 45-year-old wants to lead the EU country on an interim basis until a successor is elected after the Easter break.

Candidates include Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe and Education Minister Simon Harris. Trade and former foreign minister Simon Coveney ruled out running for office on RTÉ. Varadkar resigned as chairman of his Fine Gael party with immediate effect.

The move shortly after the St. Patrick’s Day holiday and the associated traditional trip to Washington to see the Irish-born US President Joe Biden not only surprised Varadkar’s coalition partners. However, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Michéal Martin from the liberal-conservative Fianna Fail party emphasized that the coalition, which still includes the Greens, was not at risk. The outgoing Varadkar also appeared surprised during his short speech in front of Government House, where he was flanked by several party members, as broadcaster RTÉ commented.

“I am sure that the re-election of this three-party government will be the right thing for the future of our country,” said the outgoing Taoiseach, as the office is officially known in Irish. The next parliamentary election must take place by the beginning of spring 2025 at the latest. “After careful consideration and some reflection, I believe that a new Taoiseach will be better able than me to achieve this. After seven years in office, I no longer think I am the right person to do this.”

The government recently suffered crushing defeats in two referendums. Against their recommendation, a majority voted against constitutional amendments that would change outdated and sexist language. The definition of family should be expanded to explicitly include unmarried couples. In addition, phrases such as “domestic duties” of women should be replaced. Critics blamed the government’s chaotic approach for the failure. Varadkar was also accused of mistakes in social and housing policy.

Unconventional – with a penchant for faux pas

Varadkar has nevertheless shaped Irish politics in recent years. The son of an Indian father and an Irish mother often caused offense with his unconventional style; the openly gay politician did not shy away from clear words and repeatedly made mistakes. But his modern administration also opened up the strictly Catholic society further, according to commentators. He said in his resignation announcement that he was proud that he had contributed to making Ireland more modern and more equal.

Varadkar already had government experience as transport and health ministers when he was elected party leader in 2017 and became prime minister for the first time. After the 2020 general election, his Fine Gael agreed to share office with Martin’s Fianna Fail – the new Taoiseach Martin was replaced by Varadkar as planned at the end of 2022 and took over his position as Foreign Minister. The aim of the two parties is to keep the left-wing Sinn Fein party, which advocates immediate reunification with Northern Ireland and was once considered the political wing of the IRA terrorist militia, out of government. Sinn Fein is now the strongest political force in both parts of Ireland.

“There is never a right time to resign from office,” said Varadkar. However, now it is a better one than usual. “The budget for 2024 is ready, negotiations for the next one have not yet begun.” The political situation in Northern Ireland has also calmed down and relations with its important neighbor Great Britain are good and stable again after Brexit, said Varadkar.

He also indicated exhaustion with the office. He recommends a political career to everyone. “However, politicians are human beings and we have our limits. We give everything until we can’t do it anymore and then we have to do something else,” Varadkar said. He emphasized that he does not yet have a plan for the future. According to reports, Varadkar could speculate on a position in the EU Commission after the European elections in June.