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‘Phoning it in’: Some signs Leo Varadkar planned to step down after black eye for government

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As bombshells go, they managed to keep this one under the radar.

On a day when new assisted dying proposals were top of the Irish political agenda, Leo Varadkar decided to bring about the end of his premiership.

But some signs had been there.

Follow latest: Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar steps down

Mr Varadkar was handed a humiliating defeat in twin referendums earlier this month, when the Irish people voted against redefining marriage and removing “sexist” language from the constitution.

His government’s proposals weren’t just rejected, they were trounced. The latter referendum received a massive 74% No vote, the highest in Irish history.

Grumblings within his Fine Gael party – which had been simmering over an exodus of sitting TDs (members of the Irish parliament) at the next election – were amplified hugely by the referendum fiasco.

With local and European elections just seven weeks away, many feared the black eye given to the government – over perceived arrogance and complacency – would translate into real danger for Fine Gael.

Then there’s the general election, expected late this year, although the government could cling on until early 2025.

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Varadkar was handed a humiliating defeat in twin referendums earlier this month. Pic: PA

Ten Fine Gael TDs have already stated they won’t seek re-election. If that doesn’t sound like a huge number by international standards, consider that Fine Gael formed a coalition government after 33 TDs were elected in 2020. More than a quarter of those are now riding off into the sunset.

That will always generate leadership speculation. Recently, Mr Varadkar has appeared below par in some of his public appearances.

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The term “phoning it in” was used to describe his media duties on his St Patrick’s week visit to the US, where he dodged the usual round of sit-down interviews with broadcasters.

Most recent polling earlier this month saw Mr Varadkar’s approval rating rise by 3% to a fairly respectable 41% – but clearly, at just 45 years of age, he has decided the time to depart the highest level of Irish politics has arrived.

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