- with reporting from Daniel McConnell and Eoin English
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's re-election hopes are at risk of being undermined after Government minister Jim Daly became the eighth sitting Fine Gael TD to say he will quit at the next general election
Mr Daly revealed his plans as he said the sheer workload of his position means he is often away from his Cork South West constituency for up to five days and that he needs to put his young children first.
Despite being widely seen as a safe seat and predicted to be re-elected to the Dáil for the third election running, Mr Daly said on Friday morning that he can no longer put his career ahead of his private life.
Explaining that he has five children aged between five and 16 years old, the recently separated father said he needs to prioritise their upbringing instead of his own work: "This has been an extremely difficult decision for me to make.
"I have decided to leave public life to enable me to spend more time with my young family.
It is understood Mr Daly made the decision to quit "eight or nine months ago" and only delayed his decision in order to take the summer recess to fully consider if it was the right choice to make.
Mr Daly's decision to leave politics causes a major political headache for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, as it now means eight well-established party TDs will not seek re-election.
Fine Gael - which won 32% of the Cork South-West vote in 2016, but only elected one TD - is currently running senator Tim Lombard in the constituency, with a running mate expected to be added shortly.
In a statement on Friday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar paid tribute to Mr Daly following the Cork South West TD's decision to retire from politics, but made no mention of his party's mounting election problem.
“Jim Daly met me earlier this week to inform me of his decision. Jim is a close colleague and has done a stellar job. I have always admired his directness, his capacity for independent thought and his unique way of doing things," he said.
By Daniel McConnell, Political Editor
The surprise decision of junior minister Jim Daly to retire from politics is primarily down to wanting to spend more time with his children.
But other matters may have played their part.
The junior health minister was an early and enthusiastic backer of Leo Varadkar's bid to become Taoiseach.
He ruffled a lot of feathers when he got Varadkar and not his constituency neighbour, Simon Coveney, to open his constituency office in West Cork and when he threw his support behind Varadkar. He denied he betrayed Coveney but it stung.
Varadkar named Daly as junior health minister in 2017 with responsibility for mental health, but the two are believed to have drifted apart.
A straight shooter, Daly has never been afraid of speaking his mind, even when it got him into trouble. Daly has been slapped down by Varadkar on more than one occasion for departing from the party line, like when he told Hot Press magazine he would have no problem with a Coalition with Sinn Féin
The Taoiseach's faith in Daly is known to have wavered in recent times, senior party sources have said. Hence the Taoiseach referred to him merely as a colleague and not a friend in his statement yesterday.
Daly was a close ally of the other departing TD John Deasy, the two men long awaited the departure of Enda Kenny as Taoiseach prior to 2017.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart to all my friends and supporters in West Cork. It has been an honour.
I will continue to carry out my duties on your behalf until the next general election. pic.twitter.com/KLOt0aKPKg— Jim Daly (@jimdalytd) September 20, 2019
First elected to the Dáil in 2011, he was a Cork County Councillor since 2004.
A former school principal, the Clonakilty native also previously ran a pub in Rosscarbery where he picked up a conviction for selling alcohol after hours, as he revealed in a lengthy Hot Press interview in 2018.
He is a separated father of five children aged between 6 and 16.
In 2013, Daly thanked his GP who spotted a cancerous growth on his face while he was appearing on a late-night current affairs show.
Daly praised his GP, Rosscarbery-based Dan Burke, who spotted a raised pimple on his patient’s left cheekbone while watching him on the Tonight With Vincent Browne TV3 show one evening.
Daly had the growth removed without the need for followup treatment.
- This story was updated at 7.45pm.