Irish PM Kenny steps down as party leader

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Kenny is the longest-serving member of the Dail, the lower house of parliament, having first been elected in 1975.

WORLDWIDE tributes have been paid to Taoiseach Enda Kenny after he ended his 15-year tenure as Fine Gael leader at midnight last year.

The two frontrunners to be the country's next PM are minister for social protection Leo Vradkar, who is gay and the son of an Indian immigrant, and Simon Coveney, who has served as the defence minister and whose father was also a government minister. However Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has not yet ruled herself out of contention.

He made his decision public at lunchtime today along with a host of other ministers, including Richard Bruton.

He will act as interim leader until then and has indicated that he will give his successor a "brief but appropriate" period to negotiate with the rest of the Dáil to secure a government going forward.

So, scroll back up and vote for who you would pick as the next Fine Gael leader and likely taoiseach.

"Last year I indicated that I would not lead the Fine Gael party into the next general election".

Sarah Bardon from the Irish Times political staff says despite Leo Varadkar's lead, the race isn't over yet.

He added "Simon Coveney has also seen his priced halved into 3/1 from 6/1 to be Taoiseach after the Next General Election and judging by the momentum behind the Cork native over the past 24 hours, he certainly can not be ruled out".

Mr Kenny's announcement brings to an end months of speculation about his departure, prompted by his own admission that he would not lead Fine Gael into the next general election.

A party leadership contest has officially begun.

The parliamentary party holds the whip hand with 65 per cent of the voting strength, with councillors allocated 10 per cent and rank and file members 25 per cent.

Mr Kenny will visit the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith, which has been extensively redeveloped in recent years and is due to officially re-open in the coming weeks.

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.