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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Rory Carroll Ireland correspondent

Leo Varadkar returns as Ireland’s taoiseach in rotation agreement

Leo Varadkar has become Ireland’s taoiseach after swapping posts with Micheál Martin, who took over as tánaiste, or deputy prime minister.

The Dáil, the Irish parliament, approved Varadkar’s nomination in a vote on Saturday that drew a line under Martin’s two-year premiership and put Varadkar at the head of the coalition government for the rest of its term.

The rotation, the first of its kind in Ireland’s history, underpinned a pact between Varadkar’s Fine Gael party and Martin’s Fianna Fáil after the 2020 general election. The much smaller Green party, led by Eamon Ryan, is also part of the ruling coalition.

Varadkar, 43, was taoiseach from 2017 to 2020 in the previous government, when Fine Gael ruled alone.

After the Dáil vote – 87 voted in favour of the nomination and 62 against – Varadkar paid tribute to Martin for his leadership in the Covid pandemic and promised to tackle economic and social problems, notably the country’s housing crisis.

“We need to accelerate our plan, Housing for All. It’s about making homeownership a reality for the many again. I am thinking of how we need to tame inflation and bring the cost of living under control, especially when it comes to the cost of energy, childcare, education, rent and healthcare.”

Micheál Martin and his wife, Mary, arrive at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin
Micheál Martin and his wife, Mary, arrive at Áras an Uachtaráin in Dublin on Saturday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/PA

Varadkar also promised progress on climate, biodiversity, renewable energy and the post-Brexit dispute that has paralysed Northern Ireland’s assembly and undermined the Good Friday agreement. “I want to work with all parties in this house and in Northern Ireland, as well as with the British government and our partners in the European Union, to make progress on the protocol and restore the institutions of the agreement.”

Northern Ireland unionists are wary of the Fine Gael leader, who is more outspoken about Irish unification than Martin, but the transition is not expected to significantly affect policy. “It’s like half-time: the captain’s armband will be passed from one to the other,” said Ryan.

Mary Lou McDonald, the Sinn Féin leader, said the changeover would do nothing to solve urgent problems. “To dress up your failure as progress is to insult ordinary people who live with the consequences of those failures. Rather than being accountable, rather than facing up to reality, you point the fingers at others,” she said. “It’s a cop-out, gentlemen, so typical of the parties who have passed power between each other for a century.”

Dozens of protesters from the Cost of Living Coalition gathered outside parliament chanting: “Leo, Leo, Leo, out, out, out.” The group wants rent controls, a ban on evictions, and the seizure of vacant and derelict homes.

Supporters applauded Varadkar as he headed to Áras an Uachtaráin, the residence of the president, Michael D Higgins, to receive the seal of office. Martin had made the same trip earlier on Saturday to tender his resignation.

Later on Saturday, Varadkar was to chair a cabinet meeting to confirm a reallocation of portfolios. Martin was expected to take over from Simon Coveney as foreign minister, with Coveney filling Varadkar’s previous post as enterprise minister.

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