DARA CALLEARY, the junior minister for labour affairs, has caused a major stir with his comments that the leadership of Fianna Fáil should pass to one of the party's Ógra generation.
The Mayo TD believes "there's a group of people in their 30s and very early 40s that got elected for the first time in 2007 that have a hell of a lot to offer in terms of rebuilding the party."
While veteran cabinet ministers such as Micheál Martin, Mary Hanafin and Brian Lenihan are the most likely contenders to succeed Brian Cowen as leader, Calleary and two other junior ministers – Conor Lenihan and Barry Andrews – have suggested the party could look beyond serving cabinet ministers when considering a successor.
Commentator and economist David McWilliams astutely pointed out recently that following the demise of 'Breakfast Roll Man', there is a generation of men in Ireland in their 30s and 40s that can be labelled 'Nova Man'. They listen to the fledgling music radio station Radio Nova and they are "too old to emigrate, too young to give up".
Echoing this view on a political scale, Calleary said, "One of the generations most alienated from politics at the moment is that particular generation [people in their 30s and 40s]. As a group we are in a position to articulate their concerns. There's a responsibility on all of us to lead the regeneration."
It would have been unthinkable for Fianna Fáil TDs to openly discuss who was going to succeed the party leader in the eras of Eamon de Valera, Seán Lemass or Bertie Ahern. It would also have been unthinkable in any previous era for TDs to air such views before an election campaign in a party where loyalty to the leader and tribalism are fundamental.
But these are such extraordinary times that junior ministers are openly talking about the post-general election leader before the date of polling day has even been announced.
The reality is that it's highly unlikely that Fianna Fáil will bypass its veteran cabinet ministers such as Martin or Hanafin in favour of one of the Ógra generation.
At 43, Bertie Ahern became the party's youngest ever leader when he assumed leadership in 1994 and other leaders have not exactly been young Turks – Eamon de Valera was 44 when he set up the party in 1926, Sean Lemass was 60 when he became leader and Jack Lynch (49), Charlie Haughey (54), Albert Reynolds (60) and Brian Cowen (48) all demonstrate that the Fianna Fáil leadership role is no country for young men.
But if the party does get the pasting everyone expects it to get in the forthcoming election, a cogent argument may be made that if any of the Ógra generation do survive the chop, the party should consider them for the leadership. Unlike current cabinet ministers, they cannot be directly accused of driving the economy into the quicksand over the last 13 years.
If Fianna Fáil is to survive as a political force, one of the Ógra generation could be charged with leading a re-branded 'Fianna Fáil Nua' party that opts for 'back to basics' policies and a move away from the party that became too entangled with sectional interests such as the construction industry in the Bertie Ahern era.
So what are the chances of one of the Ógra generation taking over from Cowen after the election? What are the chances of them even holding on to their seats in an election drubbing and how have they performed in the Dáil to date?
This is the group of TDs in their 30s who were elected to the Dáil for the first time in 2007 and they include Calleary, Meath East TD Thomas Byrne, Cork South-Central's Michael McGrath, Limerick West TD Niall Collins and Dublin North's Darragh O'Brien.
A politician to his fingertips, Calleary has the potential to develop as Fianna Fáil's main figure on the western seaboard and he has leadership potential in the future. While there are question marks over what tangible achievements Calleary has to show for his eight months in office as the minister with responsibility for public sector reform, he has gained experience that none of the other young Turks can boast. Coming from a constituency where Fine Gael is attempting to win four out of five seats and elect Enda Kenny as a Mayo taoiseach, Calleary faces a tough election battle. But the departure of constituency colleague Beverley Flynn suggests his seat should be safe.
Boylesports odds: 1 / 4 to get re-elected, 12/1 to become next Fianna Fáil leader
Even though he was first elected to the Dáil in 2007, Dublin North TD Darragh O'Brien is extremely close to Taoiseach Brian Cowen. An 'ultra Cowen loyalist', he is closer to the party leader than many longer serving TDs and ministers. He is also a decent media performer and internal Fianna Fáil polls suggest he holds one of the safer seats in the capital, where the party is expected to face severe electoral damage.
Odds: Evens to get re-elected, 66/1 next Fianna Fáil leader
The Cork TD has shown himself to be a politician of substance since his election four years ago. His performances at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and his competent grasp of the financial crisis show this. As he shares the Cork South Central constituency with Micheál Martin, and it looks as if only one of the two will hold on to their seat, McGrath's political future hangs in the balance in the election as his seat is not safe.
Odds: 2/1 to get re-elected, 100/1 next Fianna Fáil leader
Like Michael McGrath, Thomas Byrne has become a heavyweight on policy issues and he has an ability to perform well in difficult media environments such as Tonight with Vincent Browne on TV3 and RTÉ's Frontline prógramme. The future of the ambitious solicitor's seat looks a lot safer following yesterday's annoucement by party colleague Mary Wallace that she is retiring from politics.
Odds: 7/4 to get re-elected, 100/1 to become next Fianna Fáil leader
Collins is opinionated and says what he thinks. While some TDs are seen to be Cowen loyalists and others such as John McGuinness are in the party's rebel rump, Collins is his own man. And he has a good grasp of financial issues to boot. He will find himself battling with party colleague John Cregan to hold on to his seat. As some of Cregan's electoral base has been transferred into the new Kerry North/ Limerick West constituency and Collins is based in Patrickswell, he may have a better chance of holding his seat.
Odds: 4/6 to get re-elected, 100/1 to become next Fianna Fáil leader
It would take a wild stretch of the imagination to label politicians that are over 40 years old as young Turks or part of the Ógra generation, but there are a number of Fianna Fáil 'in-betweeners'. These TDs are older than 40 yet young enough to have a long political future ahead of them… if they can hold onto their seats in March.
Before his controversial resignation last year, Willie O'Dea was the one cabinet minister that could always be relied upon to go out and bat for the government on any given issue. A political streetfighter, O'Dea's departure left a void and Kelleher has been one of the Fianna Fáil figures who has filled the role. In politically traumatic times, Kelleher has consistently put his head above the parapet to defend the government. His experience in an economic role as junior minister for trade and commerce should stand to him. But his Dáil seat is not safe. If last year's local elections are replicated in the general election, Fianna Fáil will have just one quota so either Kelleher or his constituency colleague Noel O'Flynn would lose their seat.
Odds: 4/6 to get re-elected, 33/1 to become next FF leader
Less than seven days ago Clare TD Timmy Dooley looked to be facing into a huge uphill struggle to hold onto the Dáil seat he first won in 2007. But his constituency colleague and Minister for Defence, Tony Killeen's decision to retire means that Dooley's vulnerable seat now looks a lot safer. His detractors might label him a 'bootboy' as he is always willing to verbally attack the opposition from his backbench seat in the Dáil chamber, but inside Fianna Fáil ranks where the leadership will be decided he is viewed as a popular and ambitious TD. His lack of junior or senior ministerial experience would work against him.
Odds: 1/3 to get re-elected, 80/1 to become next FF leader
Like Dooley, Cavan-Monaghan TD Margaret Conlon's seat would have been extremely vulnerable had Fianna Fáil's three sitting TDs in the constituency – Conlon, Brendan Smith and Rory O'Hanlon – all sought re-election. But O'Hanlon has announced his retirement which should help to consolidate Conlon's seat. Conlon has her detractors, given that she had never been a county councillor before she was selected as a general election candidate in 2007 but her Dáil performances have been decent and she possesses that vital quality in a Fianna Fáil TD – complete loyalty to the party leadership. Holding her seat will be Conlon's only ambition in 2011.
Odds: 5/4 to get re-elected, 100/1 to become next Fianna Fáil leader
He has failed to set the world on fire as minister for children and his Dáil seat is far from safe. There is a view that, if he is to stand in the Dun Laoghaire constituency with Minister Mary Hanafin, one or both of them will be effectively committing political harakiri. If last year's local election results were to be replicated in the general election, then Andrews and Hanafin would both lose their seats. It has been suggested that one of them should move to the Dublin South constituency but neither of them want to move and this could prove fatal for one or both of their seats.
Odds: 10/11 to get re-elected, 20/1 to become next Fianna Fáil leader
Along with his wife Lourde, who works as his parliamentary assistant, the Connicks are a formidable political team. Seán was appointed junior minister for fisheries last year and he is held in high regard among his party colleagues and political foes alike. A former businessman, he brings a pragmatic approach to politics and he was the driving force behind the government's introduction of the car scrappage scheme which is seen to have helped save jobs in the struggling motor industry. He is expected to retain his seat and his junior ministerial experience will work in his favour in future.
Odds: 1/3 to get re-elected 50/1, to become next Fianna Fáil leader
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