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EU nation’s leader announces surprise resignation

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has decided to step down after failing to sell voters on revising the country’s constitution

Ireland’s Leo Varadkar has resigned as prime minister amid political backlash over a housing crisis, mass migration, and a failed effort by his government to revise how the country’s constitution defines families and protects the traditional homemaker role of women.

Varadkar announced his decision on Wednesday, saying he will quit as president of the Fine Gael political party immediately and step down as prime minister once his successor is ready to take office. Acknowledging that his resignation would be a “surprise to many and a disappointment to some,” he said Ireland’s ruling coalition would have a better chance of winning reelection under different leadership.

“My reasons for stepping down are both personal and political,” Varadkar told reporters in Dublin. “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 [reelection].”

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The decision follows a referendum earlier this month when Irish voters overwhelmingly rejected proposals by Varadkar’s government to replace constitutional references to the makeup of a family and a mother’s “duties in the home.” The prime minister, who had campaigned for the two proposed revisions by arguing that the Irish constitution is “old-fashioned” and “very sexist,” called the defeat “two wallops.”

Ireland is scheduled to hold its next election later this year or in early 2025. Varadkar’s party, Fine Gael, has fallen behind the Sinn Fein partly in the polls.

The Irish government has faced rising public anger over a massive influx of asylum seekers from Africa and the Middle East, as well as more than 100,000 Ukrainians who fled the conflict with Russia in their country. The migrant influx has driven a 31% jump in Ireland’s population over the past two decades, contributing to a housing shortage and rising crime.

Riots erupted in Dublin late last year, after three children and a school staffer were injured in a stabbing attack – allegedly by an Algerian migrant. Varadkar responded to the uproar by condemning the protestors, saying they were “filled with hate. They love violence, they love chaos, and they love causing pain to others.” He vowed to “modernize” Irish laws, not to crack down on migrant crime, but to punish “incitement to hatred and hatred in general.”

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Varadkar became Ireland’s youngest head of state on record, as well as its first openly gay leader, when he first took office as prime minister in 2017. Fine Gael failed to win a majority in Ireland’s 2020 election, but Varadkar returned to power in 2022, when his party formed a coalition with the Fianna Fail party.

Varadkar campaigned to legalize same-sex marriage in 2015 and to ease Ireland’s strict anti-abortion laws in 2018, achieving monumental changes in a predominantly Catholic country.

March 20, 2024 at 11:37PM

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