Enda Kenny to stand down as party leader

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By PA Reporter

Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny is to step down as leader of his Fine Gael party tonight, clearing the way for Ireland to have a new head of government.

In a statement to colleagues in Dublin, Mr Kenny said he was retiring from midnight with his successor to be in place on June 2.

"I want to assure people that throughout this internal process, I will continue to carry out my duties and responsibilities as Taoiseach in full," he said.

The veteran politician, from Castlebar, Co Mayo, is to resign after 15 years at the helm of the party and more than six years at the head of government.

Mr Kenny said he would give his successor a "brief but appropriate" time to hold talks with parties and independents propping up the government.

"I would like to stress the huge honour and privilege that it has been for me to lead our party for the past 15 years, in opposition and into government on two successive occasions," he said.

"I thank all our members, past and present, for that privilege."

Mr Kenny paid tribute to loyal constituents and supporters in Mayo who he has represented since 1975 and to his personal staff.

Questions will immediately turn to a successor and Ireland's next taoiseach alongside the analysis of Mr Kenny's legacy after leading the country out of a crippling recession, albeit with an agenda of austerity.

Aside from the economics, some of the achievements of Mr Kenny's governments were gay marriage rights, apologies for victims of clerical abuse and his apparent willingness to stand up to the Vatican and legislating for abortion in limited circumstances.

Failures include an inability to convince the public on water-metering and charges, painful tax hikes, unprecedented homelessness and a myriad of police corruption and negligence crises.

Mr Kenny delayed the transition to a new leader on a number of occasions this year, asking colleagues for time to visit the US for the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations and to meet President Donald Trump, continuing the unique tradition Ireland has of access to the White House every March 17.

He also stayed on to attend the European Council summit in Brussels at the end of April where the priorities for the Brexit negotiations were agreed.

Among Mr Kenny's final official overseas engagements will be a two-day trade mission to Chicago and the centenary commemoration of the start of the First World War Battle of Messines.

The contest for the Fine Gael leadership is decided by an electoral college that gives the parliamentary party, made up of TDs, senators and MEPs, 65% of the vote.

The rank-and-file members of the party have 25% and councillors 10%.

The front-runners to replace Mr Kenny as Fine Gael leader and subsequently as taoiseach are Leo Varadkar, Social Protection Minister, and Simon Coveney, Housing Minister.

Others yet to have been formally ruled out are Mr Kenny's deputy in government Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald, and Education Minister Richard Bruton, who launched a failed bid to oust Mr Kenny back in 2010.

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