Irish Prime Minister steps down as leader of ruling Fine Gael party

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Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny announced Wednesday he is resigning as leader of the Fine Gael party, paving the way for his replacement as the country's head of government.

Minister and Donegal TD Joe McHugh has announced he is backing Social Protection Minister Leo Varadkar to be the next Taoiseach.

He said that Minister Varadkar has a "vision of a resilient and competitive economy" that can support a fairer Ireland.

Minister Varadkar, who represents the Dublin West constituency, has been a TD for the past decade; he has previously been the Minister of Health and the Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sport.

In what is expected to be a two-horse race, nearly 21,000 Fine Gael party members will vote at 26 polling stations from May 29 to June 1, and the parliamentary party, which includes 73 TDs, senators and MEPs, will vote in Dublin on June 2. He is throwing his weight behind the Housing Minister.

Mr Kenny, who was elected taoiseach in 2011, tendered his resignation in March, but has been acting prime minister since then.

Coveney officially launched his campaign yesterday, saying that he would be a strong and stable leader of the party.

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Mr Varadkar, a doctor from Dublin and the favourite for the job, is Ireland's first openly gay member of cabinet.

The two frontrunners for the leadership have played prominent roles in cabinet for the past number of years as well as being involved in the process of forming a government last year.

The two challengers were left to fight it out as Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald and Education Minister Richard Bruton ruled themselves out of the race.

The contest is decided by an electoral college that gives the parliamentary party, made up of TDs, senators and MEPs, 65% of the vote.

"He also was part of reducing the Value-Added Tax rate for the hospitality sector, if you talk to any hotelier or anyone in the hospitality sector and they'll say that's one of the major reasons they can attract overseas visitors to Ireland".

Minister McHugh said he believed Minister Varadkar would be an outstanding leader of the country who understood issues affecting people right across the State and in particular Inishowen, having worked as a junior doctor in Carndonagh.

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