Former Minister of Agriculture enters the race for the Fine Gael leadership

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny resigned as leader of his Fine Gael party on Wednesday, kicking off a succession contest between two younger ministers who colleagues hope will boost the party ahead of an election due late next year. Kenny was recently under pressure from party members dissatisfied with his leadership.

The two favourites are Leo Varadkar, who is the son of an Indian immigrant, and Simon Coveney, whose father was also a government minister.

Mr Coveney said that it "would be doing a disservice to the party" to consider halting his campaign and that "people need to understand and hear in detail what the candidates who are intending to lead the party and country are about". "That is precisely what we need right now and I believe Simon Coveney will deliver on this", Mr Harris said.

Galway Bay fm newsroom - Ballinasloe is to host one of four regional debates in the Fine Gael leadership contest.

Mr Varadkar (left) was last night at odds of 4/9 with Paddy Power Betfair, while Mr Coveney was at 13/8.

Varadkar's rival Simon Coveney, 44, fits the more traditional profile of a Fine Gael leader.

The Leader has since learned organisers have provisionally set their sights on June 9, the week after a new Fine Gael leader is expected to be ushered in.

Junior minister Paul Kehoe also backed Mr Varadkar, the Republic's first openly gay cabinet member.

He has held positions as Fine gael party leader ad ministerial portfolios in health, industry and commerce, and justice.

"While over the years we have had our differences on many political and policy issues, I have always appreciated Enda's decency, good humour and approachability", he said.

His departure has been long anticipated after the party returned to power previous year in a fragile minority coalition, which is dependent on the support of the opposition party Fianna Fail.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan, meanwhile, declared his intention to support Mr Varadkar saying he was the "change candidate".

This is important as the 73 TDs, senators and MEPs who are members of the parliamentary party have a 65% share of the overall vote with party members having 25% and councillors 10%.

"His whole adult life has been devoted to public service and his personal integrity has never been questioned, even by his most ardent opponents", she said.