Emotional Enda Kenny quits as Fine Gael leader after 15 years
An emotional Enda Kenny asked 'Is it okay if I go now?' as he slipped out of the Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting within minutes of announcing his resignation yesterday.
The Taoiseach told colleagues in Leinster House in Dublin that it had been a "huge honour and privilege" to lead the party for 15 years.
And as he made his exit Mr Kenny scanned the room for his would-be successors, boldly declaring: "Let the games begin."
The much-anticipated announcement brought to an end months of speculation in political circles as to Mr Kenny's retirement plans.
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.
Mr Kenny continued to keep his colleagues guessing until the last moment yesterday but it became clear that moves were afoot when he was asked for the weekly party meeting to be moved forward by an hour to 4.30pm.
Sources inside the room said the room was charged with emotion. Some TDs and senators were seen shedding tears as Mr Kenny struggled to keep his own composure. One party figure described how Mr Kenny's voice quivered as he finished his address to colleagues before making a swift exit rather than waiting for questions or commendations.
Another senior member said: "The body language of some of his loyal supporters said it all, there were a few teary eyes."
Mr Kenny was said to have been composed, making the announcement on his own terms.
One TD said it was the "shortest ever" party meeting with the rest of the agenda being abandoned as members spilled onto the Leinster House plinth to discuss Mr Kenny's legacy.
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 death aged 62, Mr Kenny thanked Mayo for "their support for my family previously in providing unbroken service to the county in Dail Eireann since 1954", adding: "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.
The veteran politician, from Castlebar, Co Mayo, led the party for 15 years and has been at the head of two governments for more than six years.
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."
Mr Kenny leaves a legacy of steering the Republic out of a crippling recession, albeit with an agenda of austerity. His achievements will include gay marriage rights, seemingly standing up to the Vatican and legislating for abortion in limited circumstances.
Failures will list his inability to convince the public on watercharges, painful tax hikes, unprecedented homelessness and a myriad of police corruption and negligence crises.
Fine Gael TDs Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar are expected to be frontrunners and to throw their hats into the ring today.