Four contenders - Ministers Brian Lenihan, Mary Hanafin and Eamon O’Cuiv as well former Minister Micheal Martin - have said they will contest the race to succeed the Taoiseach Brian Cowen as leader of the crumbling Fianna Fail party.
The new leader will be announced after a secret ballot at a special parliamentary party meeting in Leinster House on Wednesday afternoon. The winner will be just the eighth person to lead Fianna Fail, which has governed the 26-County state for 53 years out of its 84-year history.
Betting odds indicate that Micheal Martin, who led a ‘heave’ against Cowen’s leadership just last week, is the favourite. Nineteen TDs have already stated in public that they will support Mr Martin ahead of the three other candidates.
The leadership election will be conducted by proportional representation, a party spokesman has stated. Only Fianna Fail TDs are allowed to vote; Senators and MEPs are excluded.
It is understood there will be a “hustings” where the candidates give an election address to the parliamentary party.
Brian Cowen resigned as Fianna Fail party leader on Saturday but said he would stay on as Taoiseach.
The long pivotal figure finally bowed to pressure from senior party figures after public outcry over his botched attempt last week to use a reshuffle to bolster his party’s chances in the upcoming election following what his Green party coalition partners called the “orchestrated” resignation of a third of his cabinet.
Cowen insisted his decision was the result of his “own counsel” and said his task now was to “concentrate fully on government business” as the party chooses a new leader. He said his decision to quit the leadership was an internal party matter but his government responsibilities as prime minister “is as before and will be so to the end of our term” - now likely to be just another week.
Cowen, who was Finance Minister from 2004-2008 before becoming Taoiseach is widely criticised for inspiring the banking and property boom-and-bust which led to last November’s humiliating EU-IMF bail out.
The party hopes a new leader will help the party avoid annihilation in the election following a recent informal poll, which put the party’s support at just 8%.
There is also speculation that Cowen will not run in the forthcoming election after his constituency colleagues were overheard discussing the party’s prospects without him.
Meanwhile, Fianna Fail TD Mattie McGrath claims he was forced into leaving the party after being “double-crossed” by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.
Mr McGrath is just the latest politician to quit the party ahead of the general election.
Announcing his decision to stand as an independent in the election, Mr McGrath, a South Tipperary TD said the party seemed to be protecting the rich and crucifying everyone else.
In a scathing attack on the current leadership, he said Brian Cowen snubbed him while Mr Lenihan reneged on a deal they struck over bankers’ bonuses and social welfare cuts.
“I felt I was let down and double-crossed,” he said.
The following are the profiles of the new leadership candidates:
The former minister for foreign affairs (50) has been a TD for more than 21 years and has been a senior minister for more than 13 years. He is a TD for Cork South-Central, and is likely to attract the support of most other TDs from Cork.
Mr Martin’s main political achievement has been the introduction of the smoking ban when minister for enterprise. But he has been associated with several controversies, particularly the one relating to unauthorised charges being imposed on patients in long-term residential care.
A recent opinion poll identified Mr Martin as the popular choice to replace Mr Cowen.
The TD for Dublin West is one of the newest members of Cabinet but in his four years as a senior Minister, he has held two of the most senior portfolios - justice and finance.
A barrister by profession, Mr Lenihan (51) became a TD in 1996 after winning a by-election for the seat left vacant by the death of his father, also Brian Lenihan. His brother, Conor, is also a Fianna Fail TD.
As Minister for Finance, he has presided over three austere budgets and is most known for the introduction and expansion of the bank guarantee, which has now cost the state over a hundred billion euro.
Following his failed prediction for an economic recovery, he made the government’s humiliating request for a bailout loan from the International Monetary Fund and European Union.
EAMON O CUIV
Like many other senior figures in Fianna Fail, Eamon O Cuiv (60) is a member of a famous Fianna Fail dynasty - he is the grandson of party founder Eamon de Valera.
Born in Dublin, he has lived in Connemara for most of his adult life and has been a TD for Galway West since 1992. He became a senior minister after the 2002 general election.
He spent most of his ministerial career in just one department - community, rural and Gaeltacht affairs - before being appointed last year as Minister for Social Protection, where he has implemented a range of austerity policies to slash, terminate and refuse welfare benefits.
Mr O Cuiv is seen as an old-fashioned, not a personality, politician.
The TD for Dun Laoghaire has not had a close relationship with Brian Cowen and is seen as having been demoted by him when he moved her from the Department of Education to, first, social protection and then to tourism and arts.
However, she has maintained a high profile in each portfolio she has held.
She has not hidden her disenchantment with Mr Cowen’s leadership in recent months and in recent media appearances, she has failed to confirm her confidence in his leadership.
She has identified herself with efforts to improve access to the corridors of power for Irish women.