LEO Varadkar is to stand down as Ireland’s Taoiseach and as leader of Fine Gael.

The Irish leader, the youngest Taoiseach in his nation’s history as well as the first to be openly gay, gave an emotional speech as he made the announcement at the Government Buildings in Dublin.

Varadkar currently leads a coalition government which includes Fianna Fáil and the Greens. He is currently serving his second term as Taoiseach.

In his resignation speech, Varadkar said his tenure as Taoiseach had been “the most fulfilling time of my life”.

Flanked by party colleagues, he said his resignation as Fine Gael leader was effective from Wednesday and he will step down as Taoiseach when a successor is selected.

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The announcement comes after a turbulent number of weeks for the 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 Varadkar and other coalition leaders who had campaigned for “Yes, Yes” votes in the plebiscites.

He said his decision to quit was both “personal and political”.

“I believe this government can be re-elected and I believe my party, Fine Gael, can gain seats in the next poll,” he said.

“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 National: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaks to the media at the Dupont Circle Hotel, Washington, DC (Niall Carson/PA)

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.

Former first minister Nicola Sturgeon was among those to pay tribute on social media, writing: "Sending best wishes to Leo Varadkar. I always enjoyed a good working relationship with him when I was FM. 

"He was a strong leader of Ireland and a good friend to Scotland. I wish him well."

Current SNP leader Humza Yousaf also paid tribute, writing: "I am grateful to the Taoiseach @LeoVaradkar for his commitment to strengthening the bonds of friendship between Ireland and Scotland.

"I am also grateful for his strong global leadership in calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

"I wish him the best for the future."

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.

The news comes just days after Varadkar made international headlines after telling US President Joe Biden it is possible “to be for Israel and for Palestine” during a speech at a White House event for St Patrick’s Day.

He said the Irish people are “deeply troubled” by what is happening in Gaza because “we see our history in their eyes” through forced emigration, a denied identity and hunger.

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.