Taoiseach Enda Kenny to step down

"Whatever I do next it will be different, not politics", he said.

Kenny said he would give his successor a "brief but appropriate" time to hold talks with parties and independents propping up the minority administration, "regarding provision of government for the future".

Minister Donohoe explained: "He has a rare combination of intellect and judgement that I believe make him the best person to lead Ireland as we deal with new risks, and make the most of some great opportunities".

Mr Kenny became known as the "Father of the Dáil" due to being the longest serving Taoiseach in Irish history.

Kenny said Fine Gael would name his successor no later than 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 added.

In a statement announcing his retirement as leader, Mr Kenny said it had been a "huge honour and privilege" to steer the party over the course of 15 years.

Enda Kenny is leaving on a "high" and he should be replaced by Simon Coveney, according to the Cathaoirleach of Laois County Council and Fine Gael councillor Tom Mulhall.

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny speaks at a press conference after the European Union summit at the European Union headquarters in Brussels, capital of Belgium on December 9, 2011.

"He understands, as he said last week, the unique circumstances of Donegal, cut off from the rest of the North for most of the last century by partition, and cut off geographically and in other ways from the rest of the State".

The contest is decided by an electoral college with the parliamentary party worth 65% of the total vote, rank-and-file members accounting for 25% and 235 local representatives making up the remaining 10% of the vote.

Donegal Junior Minister Jo McHugh has declared he will be supporting Leo Varadkar in the race for leadership of Fine Gael.

The current housing minister has also been in charge of several portfolios including agriculture and defense.

"Believe it or not it was my proposal back in the late 90s that we should extend the vote of FG leader to members and councillors".

  • Zachary Reyes