Martin and Ryan to insist Varadkar’s successor commits to Coalition going full term as Opposition seeks election

Fine Gael leader’s shock resignation prompts Opposition demands for early general election

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar shocked the country on Wednesday when he announced he would resign as Fine Gael leader immediately and step down as the head of Government in early April, triggering loud demands from Opposition parties for an immediate general election.

But the Tánaiste and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan insisted that the three-party Coalition would continue in office, and said they would support the new Fine Gael leader as taoiseach.

Both men want the new Fine Gael leader to commit that the Government will run its full term until next spring.

Opposition leaders were unanimous in their demands for an early general election in response to Mr Varadkar’s announcement.


But the strong consensus among senior sources in Government on Wednesday night was that the Coalition should avoid an early election at all costs. Some sources predicted that among the consequences of Mr Varadkar’s departure would be the demise of the much-rumoured autumn election later this year.

The Coalition could stay in office for another year, with the latest possible polling day on March 22nd, 2025, though some sources pointed to early March, in advance of the St Patrick’s Day visits, as a more likely date.

Fine Gael will pick a new leader in the coming weeks, after which Mr Varadkar will resign as Taoiseach, probably when the Dáil returns from its Easter recess, which begins on Thursday. Subject to the agreement of the three party leaders, the Dáil will then elect the new Fine Gael leader as Taoiseach, with the rest of the Government also confirmed by a vote.

Mr Varadkar’s colleagues and Coalition allies paid tribute to him after his announcement. Mr Martin said he wished Mr Varadkar well in both his personal life and his career into the future.

He added: “This is a Coalition of three parties, not personalities, and I remain committed to the continuation of Government, to the fulfilment of our mandate and to the implementation of Government.”

Mr Ryan said that he “would like to offer my good wishes to Leo as he prepares to depart the Taoiseach’s office. He has served the country well and can be proud of the contribution he has made to Irish political life.”

Why did Leo Varadkar choose this moment to go?

Listen | 35:26
Pat Leahy, Jennifer Bray and Jack Horgan-Jones join Hugh Linehan to discuss today's unexpected announcement by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that he is stepping down.

Like Mr Martin, he stressed that the Coalition agreement should continue under the new Fine Gael leader.

“It’s worth noting that the agreement at the start of this Government was between the three Coalition parties, not the three leaders,” he said. “That agreement stands, particularly in light of the important work that this Government has to do.”

In the Dáil, the Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said that Mr Varadkar’s announcement “brings us to a critical moment in Irish politics”.

Ms McDonald said the decision of who leads as taoiseach must be placed in the hands of the people, adding that Mr Varadkar’s announcement could only have one conclusion – the calling of a general election.

“We need a new Government,” she says.

Labour leader Ivana Bacik said that is “utterly untenable” that the current Government continue.

Aontú TD Peadar Tóibín said that “this is no way to run a country. The position of Taoiseach is being thrown around like snuff at a wake”.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett told the Dáil that “we don’t need a shifting of the deck chairs on the Titanic” and also called for a general election, as did the Social Democrats leader Holly Cairns.

It is understood that Mr Varadkar told some senior Fine Gael colleagues and the Coalition leaders about his decision on Tuesday night, but most people around Leinster House and Government Buildings were flummoxed by the surprise announcement when it arrived.

He made the announcement from the steps of Government Buildings shortly after noon on Wednesday. In a voice cracking with emotion, he said that his “for stepping down now are personal and political, but mainly political”.

“I believe this Government can be re-elected. I believe my Party, Fine Gael, can gain seats in the next Dáil. Most of all, I believe that would be the right thing for the future of our country, continuing to take us forward. Protecting what we achieved and building on it.

“After careful consideration and some soul-searching, I believe a new Taoiseach will be better-placed than me to achieve that – to renew and strengthen the top team, to refocus our message and policies, and to drive implementation. After seven years in office, I am no longer the best person for that job.”

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times