Michael Noonan has said he is resigning as leader of Fine Gael with immediate effect. Speaking in an exclusive interview with RTÉ News, he said the election was a very bad result for Fine Gael, beyond their “worst expectations and fears”. He said that, as leader, he accepted full responsibility for it.

Mr Noonan said he was at the party's disposal if they wanted him to stay on in a caretaker capacity, but he no longer believed he was tenable as leader of the party.

Mr Noonan’s resignation follows Fine Gael's worst election performance in half a century. The party’s big name election casualties include deputy leader Jim Mitchell, former leader Alan Dukes, former deputy leader Nora Owen and former Presidential candidate Austin Currie.

Frontbenchers Alan Shatter, Charlie Flanagan, Michael Creed and Brian Hayes have also lost out. With the party on the verge of losing twenty seats, there will be more.

Former Fine Gael leader, John Bruton, said Mr Noonan had behaved with absolute dignity tonight. He said that the party would need Mr Noonan's qualities in the months ahead.

Mr Bruton said he was not putting himself forward as a candidate for the leadership, but said he had great concerns for the Fine Gael party. He said he believed the party would have fared considerably better in the election if it had not changed its leadership last year.

Mr Bruton described his removal last year as a “quick-fix approach”, which conveyed the wrong impression to the public.

Mr Bruton said Fine Gael had not dealt adequately during the campaign with what he called the “gross mismanagement of the public finances” by Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats.

He added that the party's promises of more spending and tax cuts made it difficult for it to criticise the previous Government.

He said the institutions of the State were under threat by the election of members of a party with links to a private army. Mr Bruton said those institutions would also be under threat if one party was seen to be dominant.

Fine Gael's Jim Mitchell has said he does not intend to contest another election, and sees his future outside politics. Mr Mitchell, who lost his seat in Dublin Central, told RTÉ radio that the absence of a pact with Labour had created an opening for parties like Sinn Féin.

He said he did not regret the challenge to John Bruton's leadership last year. Fine Gael’s Austin Currie has announced his retirement from politics. A TD since 1989, the former Minister of State polled just over 2,000 first preference votes in Dublin Mid West.

RTÉ’s exit poll conducted yesterday could give some insight into the reasons behind the meltdown in the Fine Gael vote.

Three thousand people were asked by Lansdowne Market Research about the reasons involved in their choice of vote. Their answers represent very bad news for Fine Gael leader Michael Noonan.

The exit poll suggests that Mr Noonan got it very badly wrong when he decided to put quality of life at the centre of Fine Gael's bid for Government. It suggests that even a large majority of his own party's voters believed he had not much hope of becoming Taoiseach.

The exit poll suggests that, overall, only 13% of those who voted were concerned that quality of life had worsened. Even among those who voted for Fine Gael, only one in five believed saw it as a problem.

In addition, the poll indicates that Fine Gael only attracted the votes of a third of all those who agreed with the party's view on the quality of life.

The poll also suggests that Fine Gael voters knew they had lost the election even before they cast their votes yesterday, with 73% of them saying they believed Michael Noonan did not have any realistic chance of becoming Taoiseach.