Enda Kenny has resigned as Fine Gael leader

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Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny announced Wednesday that he was stepping down as the leader of his party Fine Gael.

Enda Kenny will step down as Fine Gael leader after nearly 15 years and not lead party into election.

Mr Kenny has been Taoiseach since 2011 and said he expected a new Taoiseach to be in place by June 2nd.

He said it had been a "huge honor and privilege.to lead our party for the past 15 years, in opposition and into government on two successive occasions".

Unsettled colleagues are banking on a new leader reviving their fortunes after falling marginally behind rivals Fianna Fail in most surveys.

Mr Kenny made his announcement at a brief parliamentary party meeting where some supporters were said to have been visibly upset at his long-awaited plans for departure.

There are 230 Fine Gael councillors across the State and support for the frontrunners is evenly balanced among those to declare so far.

Enda Kenny is due to address the topic of his leadership when he speaks to the Fine Gael parliamentary party tomorrow evening.

He said:"Having inherited a country and an economy that was decimated by mismanagement, Enda's strong leadership and ability to make hard decisions was recognised both at home and overseas and saw our worldwide reputation restored and strengthened".

"We'd like to thank Enda Kenny for his service as Taoiseach over the last six and a half years, and wish him well for the future". It lost a quarter of its seats, only returning to power as the senior party in a fragile minority government.

Leo Varadkar, 38, may appear an unlikely front-runner in what is still regarded as a socially conservative, relatively homogeneous country.

The Dublin-born son of an Indian immigrant father and Irish mother became the first overtly gay cabinet minister when he declared his sexuality in a national radio interview in 2015 and has campaigned on issues such as same-sex marriage and more liberal abortion laws. "His dedication and determination gave Fine Gael a landslide in that year's general election", he said.

Enda Kenny thanked his "personal staff" as well as "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". He is married with three daughters.