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Leo Varadkar: ‘I don’t feel I’m the best person for that job any more’

Full text of the Taoiseach’s resignation statement: ‘My reasons for stepping down are both personal and political’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar today announced his resignation as leader of Fine Gael, effective today, and as Taoiseach.

He will stay as Taoiseach until a new leader is chosen by the party, which it is hoped will be completed by the party’s ardfheis in early April.

The Dáil will then, it is planned, elect the new Fine Gael leader as taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar announced his decision in a personal and emotional address outside Government Buildings. Here is the full text of his statement:


“Thank you for coming. I’d like to read a brief statement. I’ve had the privilege to serve for the past 20 years as a public representative, 13 as a member of cabinet, seven as leader of my party, and most of those as Taoiseach of this great country. It has been the most fulfilling time of my life.

Working with colleagues, I’ve had the honour of helping to lead Ireland from unemployment to full employment, from budget deficit to budget surplus, from austerity to prosperity, through a pandemic in which we saved lives and livelihoods through Brexit when we prevented a hard border between North and South and protected our place in Europe.

I’m proud we’ve made the country 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. More recently, we’ve led the country through an inflation cost-of-living crisis, the worst of which is now thankfully behind us.

We’ve made significant steps towards affordable child care and universal healthcare, making access to both more affordable for more people. We’ve made work pay better with the implementation of a national living wage, statutory sick pay, lower personal taxes, improved family leave, allowing parents to spend more time with their children in those crucial early years.

Breaking news: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to step down - listen to his full speech

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has announced he is to step down. Listen to his full speech in this bonus episode. More to follow.

I’m happy that during my time as Taoiseach, we were able to honour my commitments to double spending on the arts, culture and sport. This is making a real difference now and will continue to do so into the future, fostering and assisting the artists and the sportsmen and women of the future.

We provided leadership by increasing our spending on international development, how we’ve expanded our diplomatic footprint around the world, building on Ireland’s already considerable soft power.

The national broadband plan is under way, bringing fibre-based internet connections to every home, school, business, farm and community in Ireland which the critics said shouldn’t be done. We’ve established the technological universities and the Rural Development Fund, and since 2011, we’ve quadrupled overall annual investment in public infrastructure.

That’s meant considerably more investment in priorities like housing, healthcare facilities, school buildings and climate action. And I am deeply proud that we, as Irish people, welcomed over 100,000 Ukrainian refugees to our shores when they needed our protection, notwithstanding the challenges this brings.

In my time as Taoiseach we reduced consistent poverty and income inequality. Housing construction is more than doubled, with 500 people becoming homeowners each week for the first time, the highest number in almost two decades.

Of course, there are areas in which we have been much less successful, and some in which we have sadly gone backwards. But I hope you’ll forgive me if I leave it to others to point them out on a day like this. They will receive plenty of airtime and column space.

When I became party leader and taoiseach back in June 2017. I knew that one part of leadership is knowing when the time has come to pass on the baton to somebody else, and then having the courage to do it. That time is now. So I am resigning as president and leader, Fine Gael, effective today. I will resign as Taoiseach as soon as my successor is able to take up that office.

I’ve asked our party general secretary and executive council to provide for the new leader to be elected in advance of the ardfheis on Saturday, April 16th, thus allowing a new taoiseach to be elected when the Dáil resumes after the Easter break.

I know this will come as a surprise to many people and a disappointment to some, and I hope at least you’ll understand my decision. I know that others will, how shall I put it, cope with the news just fine. That is the great thing about living in a democracy.

There’s never a right time to resign my office. However, this is as good a time as any. Budget 2024 is done. Negotiations have not yet commenced on the next one. The institutions of the Good Friday Agreement are working again, and our trading relationship with the UK in the post-Brexit era is settled and stable.

The new Taoiseach will have a full two months to prepare for the local and European elections, and up to a year before the next general election.

My reasons for stepping down are both personal and political. I believe this Government can be re-elected, and I believe my party Fine Gael can gain seats in the next Dáil. Most of all, I believe the re-election of this three-party Government would be the right thing for the future of our country, continuing to take us forward, protecting all that’s been achieved and building on it.

But 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.

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 have a better chance under a new leader. 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 Fáil, 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 a 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 would never have 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 any more 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 will 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.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my party, my colleagues and partners, particularly Micheál and Eamon, my constituents, colleagues and staff for their loyalty and their phenomenal work. And I’m going to thank them all in person in the near future. Most of all, I want to finish by thanking the people of Ireland for giving me the opportunity to serve them. And I promise I’ll keep working for Ireland and my community in any way I can in the future. Thank you very much.”

Vivienne Clarke

Vivienne Clarke is a reporter