As Enda Kenny announces his retirement he says he is 'honoured and privileged' to have served as leader since 2002. Now, Ministers Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar are set to declare candidacy for the now vacant position of Fine Gael leader and Taoiseach.< div class='story-image'>
Contenders pay tribute after an emotional Kenny bows out
Elaine Loughlin, Political Reporter
Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Political Correspondent
Juno McEnroe, Comment
Some might say he was an unlikely leaderwho confounded his critics. But Enda Kenny surprised all and controlled the moment when he chose to announce his resignation.
A lightning tweet only seconds into the Fine Gael party meeting in Leinster House announced his resignation would take effect from midnight.
Bang! In a split second, the man at the helm of Fine Gael for 15 years said he was retiring, not resigning.
“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,” he told a packed party room.
In a brief speech, he made specific reference to his wife, Fionnuala, and their children, thanking them for support.
“Let the games begin,” he quipped.
And after a standing ovation, he was gone, out the door.
First came the plaudits. This was the man who had brought Fine Gael back from the dead and led the country out of the crash. No one will be able to take that from him, said one long-term ally after the meeting broke up.
Mr Kenny was emotional, said TDs, and specifically mentioned his family, no doubt a reference to his late father and constituency predecessor, Henry Kenny. Then the tributes began to flow. Cabinet colleague Katherine Zappone was one of the first, followed by the Independent Alliance’s Shane Ross as well as the main party leaders. But the moment belonged to Fine Gael.
Enda Kenny guided country through time of change. I wish him well. Work of Government must not stall during this period.— Katherine Zappone (@KZapponeTD) May 17, 2017
Out on the plinth at Leinster House, there was a monster doorstep of party TDs and senators who greeted the curious media. Cameras circled the group and the questions began.
Parliamentary party chairman Martin Heydon said the Taoiseach had “very much” been in control of the day and had now left a “smooth transition” period for his successor.
Under the plans, a new Fine Gael leader will be elected by June 2. Mr Kenny will remain as caretaker Taoiseach after the two-week race, allowing his successor negotiate their own tenure.
Deputy party leader James Reilly said Mr Kenny had not been pushed, was leaving a legacy, and had helped rebuild the country. He was, he said, a man with his “finger on the pulse”.
TDs said the brief meeting was sombre. Indeed it was, only taking place after the launch of ‘Finite Life’, a document on end of life and bereavement.
By late evening, fellow Mayo man Michael Ring was praising Mr Kenny’s energy, saying he worked 18-hour days and was still up at dawn every day.
However, Mr Kennywas enjoying his moment. Advisers said he was in his office with staff as TV stations covered his resignation on the evening news. Later, he was “unwinding with friends”, Merrion St sources said.
They used to say that a week was a long time in politics, now everything changes with just one simple tweet.
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