Fine Gael leader, John Bruton, has resigned after the parliamentary party passed a motion of no confidence in him. After a seven-hour meeting at Leinster House, the party chairman, Phil Hogan, announced that Mr Bruton had been defeated by 39 votes to 33. Afterwards Mr Hogan led tributes to Mr Bruton. Jim Mitchell and Michael Noonan, the men behind this vote of no confidence, joined in. History, they said, would judge him well. A drawn and emotional John Bruton said that he was happy to accept this democratic decision. He said that he would contest the next election and he promised absolute support for his successor.

Tomorrow the party will meet to set in train a contest for a new leader. Both Mr Mitchell and Mr Noonan have said they will offer themselves and there is speculation that a third candidate will also emerge. Tonight Phil Hogan and others appealed for unity now behind that new leader.

Forty-eight members of the parliamentary party spoke at the marathon meeting which was wound up by Mr Bruton who made what sources said was an impassioned speech. The party chairman said that the defeated leader had accepted the result with the dignity that was to be expected of such an exemplary figure. He said that Fine Gael had had a difficult day but it would now united behind a new leader in the run up to the general election.

This morning and last night a number of previously undecided TDs and Senators opted to back the motion of no confidence. Shortly before this meeting began, Jim Mitchell said that they were confident of victory. Phil Hogan, who is backing John Bruton, sounded less upbeat. He said that one or two people who had not yet made up their minds could be the ones to decide the vote. Some members who stepped out of the meeting described the mood as serious and sombre, but without rancour.

Earlier, five more Fine Gael politicians who were entitled to vote at the meeting announced how they intend dealing with the motion of no confidence in the leadership of John Bruton. Deputies David Staunton of Cork East, Simon Coveney of Cork South Central and Deputy Padraic McCormack of Galway West said that they would be voting against Mr Bruton. Deputy Liam Burke of Cork North Central and Senator Dennis Cregan said that they would be supporting Mr Bruton. Michael Noonan and Jim Mitchell tabled the motion of no confidence. The debate lasted several hours.

Both sides in the leadership campaign worked feverishly into Tuesday night in an effort to swing vital undecided votes their way. Those backing their party leader were adamant that they had enough support to see off the attempt to oust him. The anti-Bruton faction, led by Mr Noonan and Mr Mitchell, said that they had done their sums and, on their figures, Mr Bruton could not survive.