Ireland's prime minister, Enda Kenny, who helped steer the country out of recession following the global financial crash, has announced that he is stepping down as the leader of his Fine Gael party.
In what is expected to be a two-horse race nearly 21,000 Fine Gael 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.
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The Taoiseach delayed the transition to a new leader, allowing him to attend the annual St Patrick's Day celebrations in the U.S. and meet President Donald Trump.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr Kenny has been "a strong and consistent friend to the UK".More news: Oil producers' talk of longer cuts spurs optimism
Fine Gael's executive council will meet to officially open the contest to become party leader.
Minister McHugh said he believed Minister Varadkar would be an outstanding leader of the country who understood issues affecting people right across the State and in particular Donegal.
He says its has been a "huge honour and privilege to lead the party for the past 15 years, in opposition and into Government on two successive occasions".
Junior minister Paul Kehoe also backed Mr Varadkar, Ireland's first openly gay cabinet member.
The contest is decided by an electoral college that gives the parliamentary party, made up of TDs, senators and MEPs, 65% of the vote.More news: Cyber security companies boosted by hack concerns
Athlone's Mayor, Cllr John Dolan, said he was not publicly declaring his support for either candidate.
Laois TD Charlie Flanagan's supporting the Social Protection Minister for the role, in what's another boost for the Dublin-based candidate to replace Enda Kenny.
"He did his country much service, and I wish him the very best in the next chapter of his life".
Earlier, Ministers Donohoe and Charlie Flanagan declared their backing for Mr Varadkar in the Fine Gael leadership race.
Ireland's unemployment rate has fallen to 6.2 percent from 15.1 percent in 2012 and the government is forecasting a deficit of 0.4 percent of GDP this year.More news: Trump again blows up a careful White House statement with a tweet
"Pitting different sections of our society against each other is something that has been popular in the United Kingdom since the days of Margaret Thatcher, but it is mercifully something we have avoided in this country", said Willie O'Dea, a spokesman for Fianna Fail, the nation's largest opposition party.
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