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Mind if I go? Emotions run high as Enda takes just seven minutes to say goodbye

“Let the games begin,” Kenny declared, tongue-in-cheek, as he set out his plans to step down.

15/5/2017.  Enterprise Ireland Reports Source: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews.ie

IT WAS ALL done and dusted in just seven minutes, in the end.

His colleagues – Dublin TD Catherine Byrne among them – did their best to try and persuade the Taoiseach to hang on at their parliamentary party meeting for a little longer.

But Kenny wanted to avoid the plamásing, and asked if it was okay for him to go.

After more than 40 years as a TD, more than six as Taoiseach and after a long goodbye that many political observers imagined would already be over by now, Kenny had said all he needed to say in a statement issued to the media just as his party meeting was due to begin.

He received a standing ovation from TDs and senators as he walked out of the room at Leinster House – but wished his potential successors well for the campaign ahead as he left, declaring “Let the games begin”.

Kenny had put off making any detailed announcement about his departure plans before – and there was speculation around Leinster House that he might once again attempt to hang on a little longer.

But instead, it was all dealt with quickly and relatively painlessly – and it was left to his colleagues to rush to the Plinth to sing his praises and send out gushing press releases.

4597  Enda Kenny_90512050 Source: Leah Farrell

A busy afternoon 

Will he? … Won’t he?

The muttered questions could be heard throughout the room at an event to launch a report on bereavement yesterday afternoon.

The venue, at Government Buildings, was unusually packed.

Senior Fine Gael figures like Foreign Minister Charlie Flanagan, Junior Minister Damien English and the party’s Chief Whip Regina Doherty, as well as a raft of senators and other TDs, squashed into the Italian Room – sparking speculation that Kenny might make an earlier-than-expected announcement.

Senator Marie Louise O’Donnell, a close friend of the Taoiseach (he has nominated her to the upper house on two occasions) was moved to tears as she thanked him for giving her such opportunities in politics.

4603 Enda Kenny_90512043 Enda Kenny and Marie Louise O'Donnell embrace at the launch of her Finite Lives report on death and bereavement. Source: Leah Farrell

They hugged as the launch came to a close, there was applause, and Kenny departed to make his way down the long corridor to greet his fellow party members.

No-one was quite sure how the Taoiseach would make his announcement – but it was thought he wouldn’t want his big news simply leaked out by a random backbencher.

In the end, Twitter was the medium of choice.

“Last year I indicated that I would not lead the Fine Gael Party into the next General Election. I have decided to implement that decision today,” his statement read.

I will continue to carry out my duties as Party Leader in an acting capacity, until my successor is elected through the Fine Gael Leadership election process.

As the short meeting ended, TDs and senators flooded out to the Leinster House Plinth to speak to the media and to pay tribute to the man that had lead the party for close to two decades.

There were only kind words for Enda Kenny – even from some who have criticised him in the past.

“It’s an end of an era,” Dublin TD Noel Rock said.

“A man who had his finger on the pulse and always put the party ahead of himself and put the country ahead of the party,” said James Reilly, the senator and former Health Minister.

“We can be very proud of him,” Fergus O’Dowd reckoned. Party’s chairman Martin Heydon said he had displayed “a leadership style that has been compassionate, pragmatic and inclusive”.

Reporters huddled around supporters of Kenny – some of whom insisted many people had wanted the Taoiseach to stay on a bit longer.

There were even nice words from the opposition.

One notable tribute came from Labour’s Joan Burton, who observed that the Fine Gael leader had often worked 14-15 hours per day – adding that this came easy to him largely because he was very physically fit.

Even Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams was more restrained than usual, telling reporters that the Taoiseach had done “his best” (but stressing that he didn’t think that was good enough).

The likely contestants to succeed him kept their powder dry – there were no major announcements, just the sort of press-released statements you’d expect.

Don’t expect that state of affairs to last very long though.

Read: International politicians pay tribute to ‘strong leader’ and ‘good friend’ Kenny >

Explainer: How does Fine Gael go about electing a new leader? >

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