Fine Gael ministers set to bid to succeed Enda Kenny

He said: "I believe that I can modernise and transform Fine Gael, making it a campaigning party and a force again".

Mr Kenny, who was elected taoiseach in 2011, tendered his resignation in March, but has been acting prime minister since then. Therefore I will retire as Leader of Fine Gael effective from midnight tonight, 17th May 2017.

Meanwhile, the party has revealed details of how Enda Kenny's successor will be chosen, with the party using an electoral college system for the first time.

Kenny - who had already said he would not lead Fine Gael into elections due late next year - said he would continue to carry out his duties as prime minister while the leadership contest takes place.

Kenny tweeted a statement as that meeting began, confirming his plans, ahead of the news being leaked in other ways.

"I would like to stress the huge honour and privilege that it has been for me to lead our party for the past 15 years, in opposition and into government on two successive occasions".

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Kenny said Fine Gael would name his successor no later than June 2. With friends across the European Union in short supply, what then can be expected of Mr Kenny's potential successor when it comes to Brexit, especially the tricky issues of Northern Ireland's border with the rest of Ireland?

Varadkar, whose father was born in Mumbai, was first elected to Parliament in 2007, being appointed to his current ministerial post just a year ago.

A complex leadership contest now gets underway, the result of which will be announced on June 2nd.

Mayo's third Fine Gael senator, John O'Mahony, is reported to be backing Minister Simon Coveney for the post.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today's with Seán O'Rourke programme he said a leadership election is time for renewal and Mr Varadkar reflects a changing Ireland, a diverse Ireland and will broaden Fine Gael's support base.

Mr Varadkar now has the support of twice as numerous party's TDs and Senators as his main rival, Simon Coveney, during the first 24 hours of the race. The parliamentary party will have 65% of the vote, the councillors will have 10%, and the general membership, which is bigger in Cork than Dublin, has the remaining 25%.

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