Enda quits so 'let the games begin'
Taoiseach bows out at emotional meeting saying 15 years as leader had been 'honour and privilege'
An emotional Enda Kenny declared, "Let the games begin" as he stood down as Fine Gael leader.
After 15 years at the head of the party and six as Taoiseach, the Mayo TD finally loosened his grip on power. The emotional politician asked, "Is it ok if I go now?" as he slipped out of the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting within minutes of announcing his resignation.
He told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that it has been a "huge honour and privilege" to lead the party for 15 years.
After a lengthy political career, it is expected Mr Kenny's pension pot - provided he does not contest another election - will total at least €2m by the end of his retirement.
The much-anticipated announcement of his departure brought to an end months of speculation in political circles as to Mr Kenny's retirement plans. It also sparked a flurry of tributes from within his own party, world leaders and Opposition TDs.
Although he formally stood down as party leader from midnight, the Mayo TD will continue to carry out his duties in an "acting" capacity until June 2.
The party's Executive Council will meet today to set the ground rules for a contest which will get underway straight away.
Leadership frontrunners Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar agreed to refrain from visible canvassing of support yesterday to allow Mr Kenny his moment.
However, Mr Coveney is expected to hold a press conference in Dublin today to formally signal his intent, while Mr Varadkar is likely to follow suit.
Spokespeople for Tanaiste Frances Fitzgerald and Education Minister Richard Bruton last night declined to say if they would be joining the race.
Once a new party leader is in place, Mr Kenny intends to allow, "a brief but appropriate period for my successor to engage with groups and members supportive of Government, and with other Parties in the Dail regarding provision of Government for the future".
Mr Kenny continued to keep his colleagues guessing until the last moment yesterday but it became clear that moves were afoot when has asked for the weekly party meeting to be moved forward by an hour.
Sources inside the room told the Herald the room was charged with emotion. Some TDs and senators were seen shedding tears as Mr Kenny struggled to remain composed.
He said he wanted to thank his "loyal constituents and supporters in Mayo for their unstinting loyalty since 1975".
And in an acknowledgement of the fact he first entered the Dail following his father Henry's passing at the age of 62, Mr Kenny thanked Mayo for "their support for my family previously in providing unbroken service to the County in Dail Eireann since 1954".
"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," he said.
Party chairman Martin Heydon was the only other speaker at the meeting, telling attendees: "Under Enda Kenny as Taoiseach, we saw a devastated economy repaired, long-ignored social issues addressed, and the rebirth of a self-confident Ireland. His leadership style was compassionate, pragmatic and inclusive, building a strong team which he led with energy and enthusiasm."
One TD said it was the "shortest ever" party meeting with the remaining agenda abandoned as members spilled onto the Leinster House plinth to discuss Mr Kenny's legacy.
Mr Kenny gave no indication of whether he intends to stand down as a TD but it is expected he will stay on in Leinster House until the next election.
Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin praised Mr Kenny's commitment to public service.
"While over the years we have had our differences on many political and policy issues, I have always appreciated Enda's decency, good humour and approachability," he added, wishing Mr Kenny and his family well.
Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams was less generous, arguing that Mr Kenny had entered office in crisis and was "leaving in crisis".
He criticised the Government's record on Northern Ireland and other matters.
"Having said that we all do our best and he did his best so good luck and bon voyage," he said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr Kenny has been "a strong and consistent friend to the UK. I wish him all the very best for the future."
Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon offered Mr Kenny her "best wishes" saying she enjoyed working with him at the British/Irish Council and said "he has always been a good friend to Scotland".
EU Commissioner Phil Hogan said he was honoured to have served under Mr Kenny who he described as "the greatest Taoiseach of the modern era".
Fine Gael, deputy leader James Reilly said he believes Mr Kenny has "proven himself to be one of the outstanding politicians of this century and the last".
He said he had rebuilt the party from the ashes of 2002 and brought the country back from the brink of financial ruin and put people back to work.
Mayo-based Senator and the Taoiseach's former campaign manager Paddy Burke said Mr Kenny "electrified" Fine Gael after he became leader.
"He can look back on his legacy with great pride," he said.
"History, in my view, will be very kind to Enda Kenny."