FORMER tánaiste Michael McDowell is once again the subject of speculation linking him with the creation of a new political party.
McDowell, who was one of the four founding members of the Progressive Democrats, is said by some to be considering the possibility of similar move a quarter of a century later.
However, there are conflicting opinions as to whether there is any substance to the speculation; some former political allies insist they "don't think he's planning anything at the moment", but others claim McDowell is "talking about it".
After losing his seat in Dublin South East in 2007, McDowell quit politics to return to the Law Library, where he had been a successful barrister. Although he made it clear at the time that he would not be returning, some who know him well believe he is missing the cut and thrust of politics.
And they insist that although he had a mixed electoral record and wasn't short of critics during his time in public life, he "would still be a powerful force" if he opted to return.
They say that McDowell believes there is a need for a different option in politics and is unconvinced by Fine Gael's performance as the main opposition party.
"There's been some talk, but it's in the abstract at this point," one source said. "It's hard to know whether he will or won't, but it would certainly put the cat among the pigeons."
However, another very close observer was inclined to dismiss the speculation.
"It's definitely nothing more than mulling it over, if even that. I don't think he's planning it at the moment," he said, adding that some senior figures in Fine Gael would still be keen to woo McDowell back into the party where he first got involved in politics.
Former PD colleague Pat Cox has been also mentioned in speculation about a new party but sources say that Cox has played down suggestion he might get involved.