Politics

Irish PM Quits Just Two Weeks After Big Defeat in Progressive Votes

Ireland’s progressive Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has announced he is resigning for “personal and political” reasons, stepping down less than two weeks after he was soundly defeated on a referendum to redefine marriage and the role of women in the nation’s constitution.

Fine Gael politician Leo Varadkar, who became his country’s youngest ever Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in 2017 made a surprise announcement in Dublin on Wednesday, saying he was resigning the leadership of his party and the nation. Varadkar said he would stay on as PM until a new leader could be selected and sworn in, saying that would likely happen as the Irish Parliament returned to session after the Easter recess.

The resignation comes less than two weeks after Varadkar and his government allies suffered a massive and unexpected — by them, at least — defeat in a double national referendum this month. Under the proposed changes, marriage would have been redefined as “durable relationships” in the constitution, and protections for women were to be removed as they were claimed to be “sexist”. Despite a perception the government was definitely going to win the votes, they were actually defeated with 67 per cent and 73 per cent against on the two questions.

The referendum was not Varadkar’s first, indeed one of the first major events of his leadership was the 2018 referendum to abolish the right to life for foetuses, legalising abortion in the until-recently staunchly Catholic country. He was also a leading figure in the campaign to legalise same-sex-marriage, with the government winning a national referendum on that subject in 2015, when Varadkar was a government minister.

Irish media reported last year that Varadkar was considering making use of that constitutional change by marrying his long-term partner Matthew Barrett and “welcoming kids” to the family. But those statements came less than a year after the Irish leader faced headlines about him having been filmed “socialising” in a Dublin gay nightclub, which he dismissed as a “personal matter”.

A similar scandal that mirrored the Varadkar video emerged in Finland the following year where Prime Minister Sanna Marin — like Varadkar the youngest leader in the history of the country — was filmed “dancing intimately” at a nightclub with a man who was not her husband. Marin resigned months later, also citing personal reasons.

Reflecting on his time as leader and his progressive mission while in power, Varadkar said in Dublin today that: “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.”

He also said he was proud of having increased the amount of Irish taxpayer’s money sent abroad for “international development” and the welcoming of “over 100,000 Ukrainian refugees”, a matter which has caused not inconsiderable controversy in Ireland, a country of just five million people.

Varadkar said he acknowledged some people would be pleased to hear of his decision, and despite his explanations of the “personal and political” reasons for the resignation predicted there would be speculation about the “real reason” for the move.

As it is, like most European countries, Ireland is just months away from June’s European Union elections, a continent-wide vote which pollsters claim will see considerable gains for the right in the European Parliament. Ireland is also due to have national elections to pick its next government next year. Making oblique reference to the fact he may have become an electoral liability, the one-time golden boy of Irish politics said “I believe a new leader would be better placed than me to… to renew and strengthen the team… I don’t feel I’m the best person for that job any more”.

His party, he said, may stand a “better chance under a new leader”.

This story is developing, more follows. 



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