Enda Kenny steps down as Taoiseach
‘This has never been about me but always about the challenges the people of our country face’
An emotional Enda Kenny has made his final address to the Dáil as Taoiseach, saying he was the first to acknowledge that he had not got everything right.
“But I can honestly say my motivation was always what I believed was in the best interests of the Irish people,” he added.
He thanked his colleagues in Government and the contribution of Fianna Fáil under leader Micheál Martin.
He had been truly blessed, he said, to lead the country and he thanked the people of Ireland and Mayo.
“I really do believe politics is work worth doing, a noble profession,” he added.
Flanked by Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan who will also stand down, Mr Kenny’s successor Leo Varadkar, Minister for Housing Simon Coveney and Minister for Health Simon Harris, the Taoiseach informed the Dáil at 2pm he would be going later to Áras an Uachtaráin to submit his resignation to President Michael D Higgins.
He formally handed in in his letter on Tuesday evening.
During his speech in the Dáil, he daid it was a privilege and a pleasure to lead Fine Gael and wished everybody good health in dealing with the challenges ahead.
He quoted Michael Davitt wishing “fond thoughts” and “fullest forgiveness”.
He said he hoped he had made a modest contribution to making Ireland better as envisaged by Davitt.
Mr Kenny then sat down, visibly emotional, to applause from all sides of the House.
Before the Taoiseach offered his resignation, the Dáil stood for the prayer in Irish and English, but there was some confusion when a number of TDs started to sit down during the 30 seconds of meditation.
Members of Mr Kenny’s family sat in the distinguished visitors gallery, including his wife Fionnuala O’Kelly, son Ferdia, his brother Kieran, his personal assistant Sarah Moran and chief of staff Mark Kennelly.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin described him as “an Irish patriot and an Irish democrat”. Throughout his time in elected office and in government he had been a proud representative of his community, political tradition and country.
Mr Martin also said Mr Kenny had managed events so that they have proceeded at his desired pace. “He has ensured that those who were stalking the corridors in search of journalists to brief against him have been obliged to issue lengthy statements describing him as the greatest Irishman since Brian Boru”.
The Fianna Fáil leader said “the mischievous enjoyment he has taken in this has been a genuine joy to behold”.
Mr Martin joked it was a “great burden” for Mr Kenny that Mayo had failed to win the Sam Maguire during his time in office.
He said the Taoiseach was courageous when he agreed to take over the leadership of his party when it was at such a low ebb in 2002. He was courageous when he decisively faced down those who challenged him and then went on to win the 2011 general election.
But most of all it was “incredibly courageous to give your heart and soul to working on your job in Government knowing Michael Ring was back in Mayo stealing your votes”.
Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams said his party and Fine Gael did not agree on many issues but “I always found Enda to be friendly on a personal level. Probably the best leader Fine Gael ever had.”
He said the Taoiseach’s departure from office would be a big change for his family.
“Let me say I will miss you. I will miss your entertaining tales of meetings you have had and meetings you have not had and recollections of people you have met along the way, like the man with the two pints in one hand."
Mr Adams said he would “miss your optimistic energy”, his jizz, sense of humour and his ability to field questions without giving a clue about his view on the question he was actually asked.
Forty-two years was a long time in the House and he deserved his time out. He also wished Minister for Finance Michael Noonan well in his retirement as a Minister.
Mr Adams said there had been successes including the success of the same-sex marriage referendum. But he said said there had also been abject failures, including the Taoiseach’s consistent failure to recognise the State of Palestine, “the squandering of the biggest mandate in the history of the State as the Fine Gael-Labour Government reneged on election promises, kowtowed to the elites in the EU and the banking and finance sectors, and saddled the people of this State with a debt of €65 billion”.
He said another great failing “has been a clear lack of affinity with the North, one of the deepest problems facing the political system here, and a clear lack of consistent strategic engagement with the process of change that is under way on this island”.
Mr Kenny stands down after six years as the longest serving Fine Gael Taoiseach and the first to secure a second consecutive term in government for the party.
He now becomes a party backbencher until the next general election when he is expected to retire as a TD.
The Taoiseach is also father of the House as the longest serving TD with 42 years in the Dáil. He was first elected in 1975 in a byelection following the death of his father Henry and fought another 12 elections in his Dáil tenure.
He served three years as a cabinet minister, holding the tourism and trade portfolio in the 1994 to 1997 rainbow coalition.
He also served for a year as minister of state for education and for labour from February 1986 to March 1987.
Mr Kenny took over from Michael Noonan as party leader 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, under his leadership.
For the first time Fine Gael was the largest party in the Dáil and Mr Kenny became the State’s 13th Taoiseach.