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Indian origin Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar abruptly resigns

The leader was grilled about his Mar. 17 St. Patrick’s Day meeting with US President Joe Biden

Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar visited San Francisco in 2017, shortly after taking office / Sunita Sohrabji

Indian origin Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar abruptly announced his resignation Mar. 20 morning, citing “personal and political reasons.”

Varadkar — who broke barriers when he first took office in 2017 as Ireland’s first openly gay Prime Minister, and also of Indian heritage — said at a press conference: “I know this will come as a surprise to many people and a disappointment to some, but I hope you will understand my decision. I know that others will — how shall I put it? — cope with the news just fine. That is the great thing about living in a democracy.” He has pledged to stay on until his party, the Fine Gael, finds a new leader.

At a meeting in the Lower House of Ireland’s Parliament, Varadkar was fiercely grilled about his meeting with US President Joe Biden on St. Patrick’s Day Mar. 17, amid the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Varadkar has called for a humanitarian cease fire in the region.

But critics nonetheless took aim at him for meeting with Biden, who — they said — was arming Israel with the weapons to continue the conflict, which has claimed more than 31,000 lives. Multiple relief agencies working in the region predict a massive famine in Gaza, as the delivery of food, water, and medical supplies continue to be stalled.

The White House St. Patrick’s Day meeting with the Irish Prime Minister — known as a Taoiseach — is a time-honored tradition, dating back to 1952. In the tradition, the Taoiseach presents the President with a shamrock, the Irish symbol for good luck and good fortune. The Biden-Varadkar meeting took place at the White House; the President characterizes himself as a “proud Irish American.”

Critics grilled Varadkar on why he did not boycott the meeting with Biden, and asked pointedly if Varadkar had question Biden on his support for Israel.

Trained as a doctor, Varadkar is the son of Mumbai-born physician Ashok Varadkar, who moved to Ireland in the 1960s. Varadkar’s mother, Miriam Howell was a nurse. Leo Varadkar, the country’s youngest Taoiseach, initially served as Ireland’s Minister for Social Protection. He was heavily criticized in 2008 in 2008 for calling for the deportation of unemployed immigrants, proposing a plan to give them several months' worth of benefits if they left Ireland to return to their home country. He also took aim at "welfare cheats," threatening to publish the names and addresses of people who have been convicted of welfare fraud.

In a brief interview with this reporter in San Francisco in 2017, shortly after he took office, Varadkar said: “India is doing extremely well; it has a very robust economy.” He pointed to India’s GDP as a measure of the country’s rapidly-growing economic success.

Under Varadkar’s leadership, Ireland has been aggressively courting Indian entrepreneurs, investors, and tech talent to do business in the country.

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