Alan Kelly became emotional tonight as he stepped down as Labour Party leader.
He said he had been told by his colleagues on Tuesday that he was too associated with the Government from 2011 to 2016.
He added that he had accepted their verdict “within seconds”, although disappointed.
Mr Kelly, who was flanked by his wife Regina and the parliamentary Labour Party, did not reveal any criticisms of his two-year leadership that may have been levelled. But he accepted he had made mistakes.
The outgoing leader took only three questions before turning and walking away.
He said he would remain leader for the next few weeks until his successor is chosen, and would continue to serve as TD for the “fantastic” county of Tipperary thereafter.
“Tonight I'm announcing that I'm resigning as the leader of the Labour Party,” Mr Kelly said on the plinth of Leinster house shortly after 7pm tonight.
“I was advised by my parliamentary colleagues on Tuesday morning that they had lost confidence in my leadership. This was a surprise to me. But I accepted the decision immediately,” he said.
“We had a number of frank discussions in recent weeks if I'm being honest, and especially over the last week or so.
“And I have to acknowledge that we haven't been able to move on in the opinion polls, and is regrettable that we as the party didn't get the bounce I would have hoped for over the last few years.”
Mr Kelly said he “despised populism” and had supported the Government during the Covid crisis.
But the pandemic “definitely restricted my ability to put forward our politics and my politics and bring forward the progress I had really hoped for”.
It was a reality that it has been hard because he was “very much associated with the term 2011 to 2016” when he had been Environment Minister.
It was difficult “for those of us who were involved in that Government to move on”, he said.
Mr Kelly said he had been involved in Labour “literally all my life”.
He added: “I served in every position, as Brendan Howlin reminded me earlier on today. I served in every position.”
He had been chair of Labour Youth, involved in fundraising, elected to the European Parliament, and as a TD.
“I was a junior Minister, I was a senior minister. I was elected deputy leader and I was elected senior leader.
“Every election I've ever contested, whether internal or external, I have been very fortunate to have won.”
Mr Kelly also joked that, having been elected leader, he was in the unusual position of leaving the party with more seats at the end of his tenure.
Several times Mr Kelly paused as he delivered his valedictory speech, overcome with emotion.
“I would have appreciated the opportunity to lead us into the next general election to show what I could have done as leader. But I respect that this will not be the case,” he said, without explaining the reasons offered by colleagues.
“Becoming leader of the Labour Party was the best political day of my life,” he said, adding that he had been humbled and overwhelmed by the support shown to him.
But a “collective view” had now been expressed. “For that reason, I decided to step down.
“I want to wish whoever is the next leader, the very best of luck. And I sincerely mean it. I have no interest in a rancorous or divisive debate within the party.”
When the new leader is elected, “I guarantee you I will do everything I can to support that leader. And the party.
“I have done all my life. When I was a young child in school, I said one day that I would be a TD for the Labour Party and my teacher has told that story. I will always support Labour.”
He thanked party colleagues, his wife Regina, whom he embraced, and his children Aoibhe and Senan.
“I want to thank you for your sacrifice,” he said, adding that it was now it's time for me to make sacrifices for his family.”
He added: “Politics. is becoming an increasingly difficult profession. And we all need to consider how we can make it a more attractive place for good people. Because we need good people in politics.
“Today is a very difficult day for me. Extremely difficult. And decisions like this are difficult.”
A process for replacing Mr Kelly has yet to be established but Ivana Bacik is believed to be the frontrunner for the position.
Labour sources said the party wants to move away from the 2011 to 2016 Government of which Mr Kelly was a central part.
Mr Kelly was appointed leader of the Labour Party in April 2020 after he saw off Aodhan Ó Riordain in a leadership contest.
He succeeded Brendan Howlin who led the party into the 2020 General Election.
Mr Kelly was first elected to Dáil in 2011 and has retained his seat in Tipperary ever since.
It is understood that the resignation has been a long time coming after months of different issues building up within the party.
“There’s very clear issues and it was felt that this was the right decision by many members and parliamentary party members,” said the source.
It is believed that members, including members in the parliamentary party, had “issues” with the party leader over his management style and policies.
"It was felt that this was the right decision," said the source.
There was also concern on the party’s polling numbers and how more “progression” was needed heading into the next election in 2024, with the party polling consistently between 5pc and 3pc recently.
The Labour party will meet in the coming days to decide on a new leader.
A separate party source said that the 2011 and 2016 governments, when Labour was in power and the Tipperary TD was a minister “hung over Alan”.
“It was like a weight around his shoulders and it was hard to get away from it,” they said.
“At every meeting of the parliamentary party, the 2011 and 2016 governments kept coming up and how they were being thrown in people’s faces.”
It is understood that there was no vote within the party to oust the leader and that he made the decision to resign himself.
Frontrunners for possible new leaders include newly elected TD Ivana Bacik and Dublin TD Duncan Smith. One source said that new TDs were likely to be favoured.
The party’s national executive as well as the Labour Parliamentary Party will meet in the next 48 to 72 hours to decide on the process to elect a new leader.