Enda Kenny, Irish Prime Minister said Wednesday he would step down as leader of his party and the country, leaving it to his successor to try to minimize any damage caused by the departure of its neighbor, the U.K., from the European Union.

“Last year I indicated that I would not lead the FG party into the next General Election. I have decided to implement that decision today,” Mr Kenny said in a statement on Wednesday, opening the way for a leadership contest.

“Therefore I will retire as leader of Fine Gael effective from midnight tonight.”

He said he would continue to act as party leader until his successor is found, and that he has asked the party to name a new leader by June 2.

“I would like to stress the huge honour and privilege that it has been for me to lead our party for the last 15 years, in opposition and into Government on two successive occasions,” he said.

The Fine Gael leadership contest will begin on Thursday, with BBC reporting the two favourites are Leo Varadkar, the gay son of an Indian immigrant, and Simon Coveney, whose father was also a government minister.

The Irish Times reports Mr Kenny made the long-awaited announcement at the weekly meeting of Fine Gael TDs and senators on Wednesday night.

The departing leader was “very emotional” and given a number of standing ovations at the 15-minute meeting, according to attendees.

“I intend to provide a brief but appropriate period for my successor to engage with groups and members supportive of Government, and with other Parties in the Dáil regarding provision of Government for the future,” Mr Kenny said in his public statement.

He is due to travel to the US and Belgium between June 4-7.


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