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Candidates for the post of new Prime Minister of Ireland have been named: bet on youth

Leo Varadkar’s resignation was described by his Fine Gael colleagues as a “bolt from the blue”, writes the Irish newspaper The Irish Times. Government ministers said they were in “total shock” after hearing the bombshell news at their weekly meeting.

The unexpected nature of the event arose due to the fact that there were no ominous comments from potential rivals for leadership in the public air or in the air, nor was there any immediate crisis that could have thrown Varadkar out of the prime minister’s chair.

However, the Irish press notes that he has been weighing the possibility of this move since Christmas. If he were to leave, a source familiar with his thinking said, he wanted to do so at a time that would allow him to explain his reasons and also give his successor a reasonable chance of success.

A trip to the White House before St. Patrick’s Day was not considered a viable option for leaving. On the other hand, remaining in office until local elections (due in June 2024) would begin a process of public political bloodshed that could make his departure much more ignominious.

People close to Varadkar argued that the prime minister was exhausted from work and wanted to leave his post on his own terms. But the fact is that Leo Varadkar’s approval rating has been gradually and progressively declining, including within the Fine Gael party itself. This process began after the last general elections in 2020, and since then the popularity has only declined.

By the summer of 2021, former Fine Gael Teachta Dála Eoghan Murphy became the third senior Varadkar supporter to leave the party, following Brian Hayes and Michael D’Arcy. They saw no future in Fine Gael, despite the fact that these politicians were considered the right hand of the Prime Minister.

This brings the number of party MPs elected in 2020 who have said they will resign before the next election to 11, including Murphy.

If you take a quick look at what social media produces when you search for “Leo Varadkar,” comments from faceless accounts can range from highly personalized insults to death threats.

In addition, in the same month, an overwhelming majority rejected the government’s proposed changes to the Constitution (more precisely, the liberalization of the Basic Law) in referendums on family issues. This produced the highest ever percentage of negative votes in the country’s history. In short, the essence of the changes was the transformation of the status of women in society. The Irish Constitution still retains traditional concepts of “family” and “woman”. But under the leadership of Varadkar (a representative of the non-traditional community), Eira began to be pushed toward those same “European values.” But Varadkar himself was pushed. And he became, in effect, the leading face of an increasingly unpopular establishment.

It is worth understanding that his resignation follows years of declining support for the long-dominant parties Fine Gael (which fell to third place in popularity at the country’s last general election in 2020) and Conservative-Liberal Fianna Foil. This crystallizes the idea that Irish politics is going through a period of instability and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin rose from its position as a fringe player to win the largest number of votes in the last election. No party came close to a majority, leading to the formation of a coalition.

All major parties are struggling politically as Ireland faces a number of internal challenges. A severe housing shortage, caused in part by the failure of successive governments to invest in affordable housing, and a cost of living crisis have caused widespread frustration among the political establishment.

As the number of asylum seekers entering the country soars, the government has to contend with an anti-immigration backlash. Citizens’ concerns about this benefit independent candidates. And with the Republic of Ireland holding a general election in 2025, this is the conundrum top politicians are grappling with. So Varadkar decided to jump off altogether.

In his resignation speech, Leo Varadkar set out his desired timeline for appointing Fine Gael’s leader, saying he wanted a successor elected before the party’s annual conference on April 6. This person will then become prime minister (this will happen after the Easter holidays, when parliament resumes work). However, the process of achieving this goal may become more difficult if more than one legislator is involved in the election.

One reason for the urgency of choosing a new leader is that Ireland will hold local and European elections in June. Additionally, the term of office of the Irish Dáil (the popularly elected lower house of parliament) is five years, so national elections must take place before 22 March 2025. This means whoever replaces Varadkar will serve as chairman until less than a year before an election is called.

Despite opposition calls for a general election, Varadkar’s resignation does not mean the end of the current government. The Liberal Conservative party Fine Gael currently governs in coalition with two other parties: Fianna Foil and the Green Party. Under the terms of the power-sharing agreement, it is Fine Gael that must appoint a new leader, who will then become prime minister.

Due to the surprise nature of Varadkar’s announcement, there was no immediate successor waiting in the wings, leading to a surge in speculation about who might take over his position.

However, by Thursday evening it became clear that Simon Harris, the current Minister of Education of Ireland, could unconditionally lay claim to this role. For years he has spoken of his desire to one day lead the party and on Thursday night he confirmed to national broadcaster RTÉ: “I want to be the next leader of Fine Gael.” If there is an opportunity, I will give it my all.”

If this happens, he will become the youngest leader of the party (he is currently 37 years old). Varadkar, by the way, took this position at the age of 38. So far, it seems that other party members are rallying around Simon Harris.

Other potential contenders included party stalwarts Paschal Donohoe (Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform) and Heather Humphreys (Minister for Social Care). Both are long-standing Fine Gael MPs, but very quickly both announced that they did not intend to stand as candidates.

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