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Leo Varadkar to step down as Irish prime minister and his party leader 'for personal and political reasons'

Irish premier Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is to stand down as Taoiseach and as the leader of his Fine Gael party.

In an emotional speech outside Government Buildings in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said his tenure as Irish leader had been "the most fulfilling time of my life".

He became Ireland's youngest Taoiseach in 2017 when he became leader of his party.

He currently leads the coalition government in Dublin, along with Fianna Fáil and the Greens.

He said at a press conference on Wednesday that his reasons for stepping down were “both personal and political”.

The politician, who was visibly emotional, said he believes a new party leader - and leader of the country - would be better placed for reelection when the country next goes to the polls."I believe this government can be re-elected and I believe my party, Fine Gael, can gain seats in the next poll," he said.

 (Nick Bradshaw/PA Wire)
(Nick Bradshaw/PA Wire)

"Most of all I believe the re-election of this three-party government would be the right thing for the future of our country.

"Continuing to take us forward, protecting all that has been achieved and building on it.

"But, after careful consideration and some soul searching, I believe that a new taoiseach and a new leader will be better placed than me to achieve that, to renew and strengthen the team, to focus our message and policies, to drive implementation.

"And, after seven years in office, I don't feel I'm the best person for that job anymore."

The announcement comes after a turbulent number of weeks for the Fine Gael, Fianna Fail and Green Party coalition government.

It was resoundingly beaten in two referendums on changes ministers had proposed to the Irish constitution.

The comprehensive defeats were a significant blow to Mr Varadkar and other coalition leaders who had campaigned for 'yes yes' votes.

 (Nick Bradshaw/PA Wire)
(Nick Bradshaw/PA Wire)

The announcement comes ahead of local government and European parliament elections in Ireland in June. The next general election must be held by early spring next year.

Over the last year, 10 Fine Gael TDs have announced their intention to step away from politics at the general election, fuelling speculation of internal discontent within the party.

Cabinet ministers met in Dublin for the first time on Wednesday since the referenda defeats.

Mr Varadkar, 45, has also just returned from the United States where he was involved in several high-profile engagements with President Joe Biden as part of traditional St Patrick's Day celebrations.

He is currently serving his second term as Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar, who first became premier in 2017, once insisted he would not remain in politics beyond the age of 50, albeit he later said he regretted making that pledge.