Ireland to get new leader as Enda Kenny steps down

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.

After meeting party lawmakers, Kenny said he will step down at midnight, remaining interim party leader until a successor is elected by June 2.

Kenny, Ireland's leader since 2011, said he would then stay as head of government for a "brief but appropriate period" while his designated successor holds talks with parties and independents propping up the minority government.

Kenny, 66, has led the center-right Fine Gael for 15 years, but has faced months of pressure from party colleagues to resign after being accused of a bumbling response to a police scandal.

Kenny had agreed to hand over power but repeatedly delayed, asking colleagues for time to visit the United States for St. Patrick's Day celebrations and to meet President Donald Trump in March, then attending a key European Union summit in April to talk about Britain's exit.

Kenny is due to visit the U.S. and Belgium early next month in his final trips as Ireland's Taoiseach, or prime minister.

He said it had been a "huge honor and privilege ... to lead our party for the past 15 years, in opposition and into government on two successive occasions."

Kenny led Ireland through a difficult recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis, which hit the debt-fueled "Celtic Tiger" economy particularly hard.

Voters weary after several years of austerity turned to independents and protest parties in last year's election, leaving Kenny atop a fragile coalition.

His replacement will lead Ireland during complex divorce negotiations between Britain and the EU. Brexit has major implications for Ireland, the only EU country to share a land border with the United Kingdom.