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Indian Origin Prime Minister of Ireland Resigns Citing Personal and Political Reasons

Indian Origin Prime Minister of Ireland Resigns Citing Personal and Political Reasons

  • Leo Varadkar, the 45-year-old son of an Indian-born doctor and an Irish nurse, made history in 2017 as the first gay and first biracial leader of the majority-Catholic country.

Leo Varadkar is stepping down as Ireland’s prime minister or Taoiseach, citing personal and political reasons. He has also resigned as leader of the Fine Gael party in the ruling coalition.

His surprise announcement today came 15 months into his second stint as prime minister. He said he no longer felt he was the “best person” to lead Ireland. “One part of leadership is knowing when the time has come to pass on the baton and then having the courage to do it. That time is now.”

The 45-year-old son of an Indian-born doctor and an Irish nurse made history in 2017 as the first gay and first biracial leader of the majority-Catholic country. He returned to power in December 2022, as part of a coalition government. His return was barely two months after Rishi Sunak was elected prime minister of Britain, making it the first time that the two countries had leaders of Indian heritage. 

While he was “deeply grateful” for his time in office, he said he had reached the end of the road as Taoiseach. “Politicians are human beings and we have our limitations,” he said. “We give it everything until we can’t anymore. And then we have to move on.” 

He confirmed he had no firm plans for the future but would remain a backbench MP.  He said he had asked for a new leader of the party to be chosen on 6 April, allowing a new prime minister and cabinet to be elected after parliament’s Easter break.

Who is Leo Varadkar?

Varadkar was born in the suburbs of Dublin to Ashok and Miriam, who met in Slough and lived in Leicester and India, returning to Dublin in 1973. The couple has two other children: Sophia, a neurologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital in London; and Sonia, a midwife at the Coombe Hospital in Dublin.

A Village magazine profile on Varadkar said he was brought up Catholic and educated at St. Francis National School in his hometown of Blanchardstown. A trained physician, educated at King’s Hospital School, Palmerstown, and Trinity College-Dublin, he has represented the Dublin-West constituency in parliament since 2007.

After graduation, he spent several years working as a junior doctor at Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown before qualifying as a GP in 2010. He was only 20 and in his second year in medical school when he contested the local elections in 1999 — but he scored 380 first preference votes and was eliminated on the fifth count, The Irish Independent reported. 

He was co-opted onto Fingal County Council in 2004, before being elected to the Irish Parliament in the 2007 general election. He was immediately appointed as Fine Gael’s spokesman for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. He was re-elected in 2011 when the party came into power and was made transport minister. In a cabinet reshuffle in 2014, Varadkar replaced James Reilly as health minister. He was returned to the Parliament in the 2016 general election and was subsequently handed the job of Social Protection Minister.

In a radio interview on Jan. 18, 2015, on the occasion of his 36th birthday, Varadkar revealed he was gay, becoming the first openly gay cabinet minister in Irish history. He was a prominent supporter of the Yes campaign in the same-sex marriage referendum the following May. “It is not something that defines me,” he told the listeners. “I’m not a half-Indian politician or a doctor or a politician or a gay politician for that matter,” he said, adding, “It’s just a part of who I am, it doesn’t define me, it is part of my character I suppose.”

Outspoken Supporter of Palestinians

Last week, Varadkar was in the U.S. with his partner Matthew Barrett for his annual St. Patrick’s Day visit. During his visit to the White House, he “set out his views on Irish empathy for the plight of the Palestinians, The Washington Post reported. He is one of the most outspoken supporters of the Palestinians among European leaders “We see our history in their eyes — a story of displacement, of dispossession and national identity questioned and denied, forced emigration, discrimination, and now hunger.” He thanked Biden for his efforts to “secure a humanitarian cease-fire” and “create the space for lasting peace,” The Post report said. 

Earlier in Boston, he put forth his views on the war and reiterated the need for an immediate ceasefire. “What happened on Oct. 7 was an act of pure evil and hatred, and it can never be forgotten or excused,” adding that “no one can turn away from what is happening to the Palestinian people.” 

He stressed that “Ireland will continue to call for an immediate ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages, and a massive and sustained increase in humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza,” he said in his address. “We will also continue to call and to work for a meaningful political pathway leading to self-determination for the Palestinian people. A fully-fledged nation for their own people in the land of their forefathers.”

He highlighted the plight of the children in Gaza. “The cries will engender more retaliation and beget more violence and revenge,” he said. No child ever gave their consent for terrorist acts. No child should ever be punished for them.”

Talking about his country’s “painful history,” he told attendees that “a ceasefire does not mean surrender. A ceasefire does not mean weakness.  A ceasefire does not mean forgiveness,” Instead, it means “hope. It means breaking free of the perpetual cycle of violence, recrimination, and retaliation.  It means believing in our shared humanity instead of a need for revenge.” Calling Ireland “a true friend to the United States,z’ spoke of the role the US played in bringing about peace on “our island.”

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Bouquets and Brickbats

While Varadkar did not elaborate on the political reasons for his resignation, several news reports have speculated several reasons. Main among them including the biggest-ever referendum loss by an Irish government. For which he was blamed, The Guardian reported. 

The ruling coalition’s proposal for “rewording the 1937 constitution to change outdated references to family and women,” was rejected by voters. “Voters rejected the family referendum, with 67% voting no, and buried the other proposal, which related to women’s caregiving role, in an even bigger landslide of 74%,” The Guardian report said. He has also faced increasing discontent within Fine Gael,  the report added.

He “earned praise during his first 2017-2020 mandate for rallying EU support behind the backstop mechanism to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland during Brexit negotiations with the UK,” The Guardian said. He also played a leading role in a 2018 referendum that legalized abortion, which The Guardian called “a milestone in Ireland’s transformation from a socially conservative Catholic society to secularism and pluralism.”

(Top photo, Leo Varadkar/Facebook)

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