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Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny Enda Kenny speaks at the launch of the Healthy Ireland Network at Dublin Castle. May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne


By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny formally announced his resignation on Tuesday, capping six years in power and paving the way for Leo Varadkar to be elected his successor to defend Ireland's interests in upcoming Brexit talks.

Kenny stepped down as leader of governing party Fine Gael last month and was replaced by Varadkar, who will become the once-staunchly Catholic country's first gay premier and the youngest person ever to hold the office on Wednesday.

Taking office months after Ireland was forced to accept a humiliating international bailout, Kenny oversaw its turnaround to become Europe's fastest-growing economy.

He said on Tuesday that he hoped the two governments he led had made a "modest contribution" to the ambitions of those who helped achieve Irish independence a century ago.

"This has never been about me, this has always been about the problems and the challenges that our people and our country face," Kenny said in a short address to a packed chamber before going to the president's residence to hand over his resignation.

"I am the first to acknowledge that I have not gotten everything right but I can honestly say that my motivation was always what I believed was in the best interests of the Irish people."

Dismissed as a political lightweight before leading Fine Gael to its best ever election result in 2011, Ireland's longest serving member of parliament surprised many with his steady hand in office and built up a close rapport with fellow EU leaders.

But at elections last year, Kenny suffered a backlash from voters who felt the recovery was passing them by and only just clung onto power in a weak minority government. He also hands over a severe housing and homelessness crisis to his successor.

Varadkar will be voted in as Ireland's 14th prime minister by parliament on Wednesday, having secured the support of the independent lawmakers who back the Fine Gael-led minority and an agreement by the main opposition party Fianna Fail to abstain.

The son of an Irish nurse and an Indian doctor is also due to announce his cabinet following the vote, with Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe expected to be promoted to finance minister, replacing the retiring Michael Noonan.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

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The citizens' meeting

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