Leo Varadkar becomes Ireland's PM again in job swap deal

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By Euronews  with AFP
FILE - Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Feb. 21, 2020.
FILE - Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar arrives for an EU summit at the European Council building in Brussels, Feb. 21, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo

Leo Varadkar is returning for a second term as Ireland’s prime minister, part of a job-sharing deal made by the country’s coalition government.

Varadkar was nominated to replace Micheál Martin in a planned handover during a special session of the Dáil, the lower house of Ireland’s parliament. He is due to be officially confirmed as prime minister later Saturday.

Martin has served as Ireland’s leader, or taoiseach, since an election in 2020 that produced a historic coalition agreement between his Fianna Fáil party and Varadkar’s Fine Gael.

Forming a government along with the smaller Greens, the parties agreed Martin would hold the top job with Varadkar as his deputy for the first half of a five-year term, before the men switched posts.

Martin, 62, submitted his resignation to President Michael D. Higgins on Saturday morning. He said it had been “the honor of a lifetime” to serve as taoiseach and he was “looking forward to the second phase of this government.”

The government faces a daunting set of challenges, including a housing crisis, soaring energy costs, an overstretched health care system and thorny post-Brexit relations with the United Kingdom.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are both centrist parties, with a fierce rivalry stemming from their origins on opposite sides of Ireland’s civil war a century ago. They have dominated Irish politics for decades but had never formed a government together before.

Their coalition deal shut out left-wing nationalist party Sinn Fein, which won the largest share of votes in the 2020 election but was unable to assemble enough support to govern. The two centrist parties have long shunned Sinn Fein because of its historic links to the Irish Republican Army and decades of violence in Northern Ireland, but it continues to build support, especially among younger voters.

Varadkar, 43, served as prime minister between 2017 and 2020 -- the country’s youngest-ever leader and first openly gay prime minister. Varadkar, whose mother is Irish and father is Indian, was also Ireland’s first biracial taoiseach.