TAOISEACH Enda Kenny will retire as Fine Gael leader, with effect from midnight on Wednesday.
"I will continue to carry out my duties as Party Leader in an acting capacity, until my successor is elected".
Kenny, Ireland's leader since 2011, said he would then stay as head of government for a "brief but appropriate period" while his designated successor holds talks with parties and independents propping up the minority government.
The front-runners to replace Mr Kenny as Fine Gael leader and subsequently as taoiseach are Leo Varadkar, Social Protection Minister, and Simon Coveney, Housing Minister. Opinion polls have shown public support at almost identical levels for the two parties, making it likely either would have to rely on a coalition of minor parties and independent lawmakers to create a governing majority if new elections are required.
The party has said this lunchtime that the appointment of a new leader, in and of itself, will not require any amendment to the Confidence and Supply Arrangement with Fine Gael.
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Kenny, dismissed as a political lightweight before leading his party to its best ever election result in 2011, built up a close rapport with fellow European Union leaders alongside Finance Minister Michael Noonan, who a number of Fine Gael lawmakers expect will also stand down following the leadership contest.
Whoever wins will take over as prime minister, subject to a parliamentary vote, at least until the election.
The race is set to be dominated the two declared candidates: Varadkar, 38, and Coveney, 44.
Kenny is due to visit the US and Belgium early next month in his final trips as Ireland's Taoiseach, or prime minister.