Enda announces that he's stepping down as Taoiseach

Enda Kenny
Enda Kenny

Enda Kenny has announced that he will step down as leader of Fine Gael from midnight.

The Mayo TD, first elected to the Dáil in 1975, confirmed his departure at a meeting of the parliamentary party this evening.

It brings to an end a six-year spell as Taoiseach and the battle now begins to find his successor.

Minister for Social Protection Leo Varadkar and Housing Minister Simon Coventry are the early frontrunners for the job. However Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has not yet ruled herself out of contention.

Mr Kenny's announcement brings to an end months of speculation about his departure, prompted by his own admission that he would not lead Fine Gael into the next general election.

The statement in full reads:

"Last year I indicated that I would not lead the Fine Gael Party into the next General Election.  I have decided to implement that decision today.  Therefore I will retire as Leader of Fine Gael effective from midnight tonight, 17th May 2017.

"I will continue to carry out my duties as Party Leader in an acting capacity, until my successor is elected through the Fine Gael Leadership election process.

"I have asked that the Fine Gael Executive Council expedite this process and to have it concluded by close of business on Friday June 2nd.

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

"I intend to provide a brief but appropriate period for my successor to engage with groups and members supportive of Government, and with other Parties in the Dáil regarding provision of Government for the future. 

"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.

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

"I thank all my loyal constituents and supporters in Mayo for their unstinting loyalty since 1975, and for their support for my family previously in providing unbroken service to the County in Dáil Éireann since 1954.

"I thank my personal staff for their commitment over many years to their duties.

"I especially want to thank my wife Fionnuala, our children, my siblings and their families for their understanding of my work, and indeed for accepting the many intrusions of politics into family life in the interest of building our Country. I could not have engaged as I did without that base."

Since he was first elected as TD, his career as Fine Gael leader has been a series of ups and downs.

In 2002, party leader Michael Noonan led Fine Gael to its then worst performance, losing 23 seats. Taking over, Kenny rebuilt the party, winning back 20 seats in the 2007 election and a further 25 in the 2011 election.

He subsequently became the first Fine Gael Taoiseach to be elected to a second consecutive term on 6 May 2016, after two months of negotiations following the 2016 election, forming a Fine Gael-led minority government.

He is the first taoiseach from Fine Gael since John Bruton (1994-1997), and the first Fine Gael leader to be be re-elected to government since Garret FitzGerald in 1982. He became the longest-serving Fine Gael Taoiseach in April 2017.

Catherine Devine and Cathal McMahon