26 County Justice Minister Michael McDowell has succeeded Mary Harney to become the new leader of the Progressive Democrats and will also take over the role of Tanaiste, or Deputy Prime Minister.
McDowell moved quickly to fend off potential opposition, and was selected without a contest to lead the party into next year’s general election.
In advance of her resignation, McDowell had lined up significant support, with two of the party’s eight TDs quick to publicly back him.
A decision by two potential opponents to support Mr McDowell averted a potentially divisive leadership election. Minister of state Tom Parlon will become president of the party while the PD chief whip Liz O’Donnell will be appointed deputy leader.
Ms Harney is also expected to continue in her role as Minister for Health.
“I congratulate him on his appointment and look forward to working closely with Minister McDowell in the future,” said the 26 County Prime Minister and Fianna Fail leader, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.
The opposition Fine Gael and Labour parties congratulated McDowell, considered by republicans to be one of the most reactionary figures to emerge in irish politics.
The outspoken McDowell and Harney have strongly polarised public opinion and their controversial party is expected to face an uphill struggle for survival in the forthcoming general election. It is widely believed the media-driven party may also seek to grab the headlines and the political high ground by bringing down the current coalition government.
But at a press conference to announce his accession, McDowell pledged that the Coalition would continue until next summer, and attacked a potential rival coalition government headed by Fine Gael and Labour.
“Put bluntly the parties to the Mullingar accord have no credible potential to govern on their own and are desperately seeking to conceal the fact that their only prospect of acceding to office is in conjunction with the Greens and far-left deputies. You can’t have one without the other,” said Mr McDowell.
Caoimhghin O Caolain, Sinn Féin Dail leader, said his party would continue to oppose the PDs’ political philosophy.
“Whoever occupies the leader’s position in the Progressive Democrats we in Sinn Féin will strongly oppose their right wing policies,” Mr O Caolain said.
“We will continue to work with all party leaders in government in the context of the peace process, including Michael McDowell.
“However, his accession to the PD leadership and the post of Tanaiste comes after a career that has been characterised by an anti-republican approach which has been a negative influence in and out of government,” he said.