Fine Gael’s most successful ever leader resigns

Fine Gaels successful leader enda kenny resigns
Enda Kenny. Photo

Enda’s Dail Eireann farewell

Ireland’s head of government Enda Kenny resigned as Ireland’s thirteenth Taoiseach, and Fine Gael’s most successful ever leader, earlier today.

He is expected to leave office early tomorrow afternoon to make way for his successor as Fine Gael leader, Leo Varadkar.

Fine Gael does not have enough seats in Dail Eireann, even with the Independents with whom it shares power, to wave through the vote for Taoiseach.

But opposition party Fianna Fail – which has kept Mr Kenny’s government in power in a confidence and supply agreement since last year’s General Election – has said it will not oppose Varadkar’s election as Taoiseach.

Mr Kenny first entered the Dail in 1975 when he won a by-election for his late father Henry’s seat. He has been leader of Fine Gael for 15 years and Taoiseach since 2011, serving as such in two consecutive parliaments having fought 12 elections.

He started his ministerial career as junior Education and Labour minister from February 1986 to March 1987 under Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and then served as Tourism and Trade minister in the 1994 to 1997 rainbow coalition led by John Bruton.

He took over as Fine Gael leader from Michael Noonan in 2002 after a disastrous general election for the party and in 2007 the party’s numbers in the Dáil went from 32 to 51 TDs. In the 2011 general election at the height of the economic recession, Fine Gael secured 76 seats, the most in the party’s history to become for the first time the largest party in the Dáil.

Watched from the gallery by his wife Fionnuala he was clearly emotional as he made his farewell to power. It has been widely reported that he will serve as a backbench TD for Mayo until the next General Election.

He told the Dáil he will go to Áras an Uachtaráin to hand his resignation to President Michael D Higgins.

He told TDs:

“This has never been about me, it has always been, Ceann Comhairle, (the Speaker of the Dail through whom all remarks must be addressed) about the challenges that our people and our country face.

“That said, I’m very happy to have the opportunity to thank you and your predecessors, and indeed all the staff of this house for their assistance and their unfailing courtesy over the last six years as Taoiseach but over the last 42 years since I’ve been a member of this house.”

Fine Gaels successful leader enda kenny resigns
Enda Kenny. Photo:

He said the best chance that life had to offer was to work hard at work worth doing and that he had been “truly blessed I had that chance”.

He said he had no time for cynicism and he firmly believed politics is a job worth doing.

He conceded he may not have got everything right and may have made mistakes.

“But I can honestly say my motivation was always what I believed was in the best interests of the Irish people,’’ he said.

He praised the Irish Labour Party’s contribution to the last government and said how much he felt it had been privilege and a pleasure to lead Fine Gael.

He wished everybody good health in dealing with the challenges ahead and said he hoped he had made a modest contribution to making Ireland better as envisaged by Michael Davitt (1846-1906), the Republican founder of the Land League, who also came from Mayo.

Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin said Mr Kenny had brought pride to the office of Taoiseach and had been an Irish patriot and democrat.

Boundless Enthusiasm

On behalf of his own party he thanked the Taoiseach for putting the country first during his period in office and said he had been courageous throughout his career and since becoming leader of Fine Gael in 2002.

“Most of all Taoiseach, you put your heart and soul into your job in Dublin knowing that Michael Ring was back in Mayo stealing your votes,” he said to laughter from all sides of the house.

Irish Labour Party Leader Brendan Howlin paid tribute to Mr Kenny’s “boundless enthusiasm” and “great skill and determination” which had been invaluable in bringing about Ireland’s recovery from the economic collapse brought about by Fianna Fail mismanagement.

In the darkest days of 2011, his hopeful, happy attitude was exactly what Ireland needed.

Mr Howlin, who served under Mr Kenny in
the 2011-2016 FG-Labour coalition said: “That remains your greatest legacy.”

He also paid tribute to him for his trenchant criticism of the Catholic Church in Ireland in a speech in 2011 that was widely reported around the world.

Abortion and marriage equality (gay marriage) had been difficult issues for Mr Kenny, said Mr Howlin, and they had not agreed at the beginning.

But, said Mr Howlin, once Mr Kenny changed his view on socially progressive matters like marriage equality he stuck to it, no matter the party political cost to him.

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