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'I am no longer the best person for that job': Varadkar's emotional resignation speech, in full

“I have nothing else lined up or in mind,” the Taoiseach said.

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FLANKED BY SIX ministers from his party, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a shock resignation announcement outside Government Buildings this afternoon. 

Tearing up toward the end of the speech, the Fine Gael leader said he made the decision for political and personal reasons. 

Here is his speech in full:

“Thank you for coming. I’d like to read a brief statement.

I have 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’s been the most fulfilling time of my life.

Working with colleagues, I have 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, and through Brexit when we prevented a hard border between North and South and protected our place in Europe.

I am proud that we have 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 have led the country through an inflation and cost of living crisis, the worst of which is now thankfully behind us.

We have made significant steps towards affordable childcare and universal healthcare, making access to both more affordable for more people.

We’ve made work pay better, with the phased implementation of a national Living Wage and statutory sick pay, lower personal taxes and improved family leave, allowing parents to spend more time with their children in those crucial early years.

I am happy that during my time as Taoiseach, we were able to honour my commitment 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 sportsmen and women of the future.

We provided leadership by increasing our spending on international development, and we have expanded our diplomatic footprint around the world, building on Ireland’s already considerable soft power. The National Broadband Plan is underway – bringing fibre-based internet connections to every home, school, business, farm and community in Ireland, which the critics said shouldn’t be done.

We established the Technological Universities and the Rural Development Fund, and since 2011 we have quadrupled overall annual investment in public infrastructure. This has meant considerably more investment in priorities like new housing, new healthcare facilities, school buildings and climate action.

I am proud that we, the 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 has more than doubled, with five hundred people becoming homeowners every week for the first time – the highest number in almost two decades.

Of course, there are other areas in which we have been much less successful and some in which we have 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 someone else. And then having the courage to do it. That time is now.

So, I am resigning as president and leader of Fine Gael effective today, and will resign as Taoiseach as soon as my successor is able to take up that office.

I have asked our Party General Secretary and Executive Council to provide for the new leader to be elected in advance of the Ard Fheis on Saturday, 6 April, 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 and a disappointment to some. I hope you will at least 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 is never a ‘right time’ to resign high office. However, this is as good a time as any – Budget 2024 is done, and 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 United Kingdom, 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 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.

There are loyal colleagues and good friends contesting the Local & European Elections and I want to give them the best chance possible. I think they will now have a better chance under a new leader.

In standing aside, I can do so in the absolute confidence that the country and the economy are in a good place, and that my colleagues in the Government from all three parties, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and the Greens, and the Oireachtas will continue to work hard for the nation’s best interests.

On a personal level, I have enjoyed being Taoiseach, leader and a Cabinet member since March 2011. I have learned so much about so many things, met people who I would never have got to meet, been to places I would never have seen, both home and abroad. I am deeply grateful for it and would wholeheartedly recommend a career in politics to anyone considering it.

However, politicians are human beings. We have our limitations. We give it everything until we can’t anymore and then we have to move on.

I will, of course, continue to fulfil my duties as Taoiseach until a new Taoiseach is elected and will remain as a constituency TD for Dublin West.

I know, inevitably, there will be speculation as to the ‘real reason’ for my decision. These are the real reasons. That’s it. I have nothing else lined up or in mind. No definite personal or political plans, but I am looking forward to having the time to think about them.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Party, my coalition partners Micheál and Eamon, Constituents, colleagues and staff for their loyalty and their phenomenal work, and will also thank them in person in the near future.

Most of all, I’d like to finish by thanking the people of Ireland for giving me the opportunity to serve them. I promise I will keep working for Ireland and my community in any way I can in the future.”

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