Who will be the next leader of Fine Gael?

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny arrives for a meeting of the EPP prior to an EU sum

"Enda has been a strong and consistent friend to the United Kingdom and I want to thank him for all he has done to maintain the unique and close spirit of cooperation between our two nations, which has gone from strength to strength during his time as Taoiseach", Ms May said.

However, fellow local TD Fergus O'Dowd is set to give his vote to the favourite Leo Varadkar.

Minister Donohoe explained: "He has a rare combination of intellect and judgement that I believe make him the best person to lead Ireland as we deal with new risks, and make the most of some great opportunities".

Varadkar quietly launched a website yesterday asking for the public's help and said he is "looking forward to getting the campaign going around the country. He is best placed to bring Fine Gael into a new era".

Should tonight's meeting end in Mr Kenny announcing his decision to step down, a leadership race between the two main protagonists Simon Coveney and Leo Varadkar will most likely commence in earnest.

He said the county would be a priority for him should he become Taoiseach.

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

Cllr Mulhall said he would support whatever candidate is elected and Minister Varadkar would also make a good leader. "That is precisely what we need right now and I believe Simon Coveney will deliver on this", Mr Harris said.

Mr Varadkar has already secured the public endorsements of around 35 members of the parliamentary party.

The contest will be decided using a weighted voting system across three electoral colleges - the parliamentary party, councillors and party members.

Nearly 21,000 party members will vote at 26 polling stations from Monday May 29 to Thursday June 1 and the parliamentary party which includes 73 TDs, senators and MEPs, will vote in Dublin on Friday June 2.

In the midst of declarations, Michael Noonan announced he would retire from politics at the next election.

Separately, the Fine Gael National Executive met last night to finalise the details of the contest with four regional debates now confirmed in Dublin, Carlow, Ballinasloe, and Cork from the end of next week.

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