Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny steps down as Fine Gael leader

Enda Kenny Image copyright AFP
Image caption Enda Kenny will continue in his role as taoiseach until a replacement is elected

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny has stood down as leader of Fine Gael.

He will continue as taoiseach (PM) until parliament chooses a successor.

The 66-year-old, who was elected taoiseach in 2011, tendered his resignation in March, but has been acting prime minister since then.

He told a parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday that a successor would be appointed by 2 June; the leadership contest will begin later, with nominations closing on Saturday.

After an electoral college of the parliamentary party, county councillors and party members have their say, Ireland's Dail parliament will vote in the new leader as taoiseach later in June,

The two favourites are Leo Varadkar, who is the son of an Indian immigrant, and Simon Coveney, whose father was also a government minister.

'Honour and privilege'

Mr Kenny announced his departure at a brief parliamentary party meeting where some supporters were said to have been visibly upset.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Enda Kenny made his final St Patrick's Day trip to the US in March when he visited President Donald Trump

The veteran politician, from Castlebar, County Mayo, had been under pressure to resign from factions within his own party that were dissatisfied with his leadership.

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

He would "continue to carry out my duties and responsibilities as taoiseach" until his replacement took over, he added.

'Strength to strength'

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr Kenny had been a "strong and consistent friend" to her country.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Theresa May paid tribute to Enda Kenny's contribution to improving UK-Irish relations

"I want to thank him for all he has done to maintain the unique and close spirit of co-operation between our two nations, which has gone from strength to strength during his time as taoiseach," added Mrs May.

Her predecessor David Cameron said Mr Kenny "was a strong leader for Ireland, a great partner for the UK, and remains a good friend".

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams said Mr Kenny "did his best from his perspective" but his "political legacy is dominated by crisis, chaos, and chronic lack of accountability".

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 World War One Battle of Messines, both in the first week of June.

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