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Fianna Fáil's next leader, from most to least likely

Micheál Martin is safe for now but who’s in the running to replace him? Here’s our ranking of the contenders…

27/4/2013. Fianna Fail Ard Fheis Micheál Martin has led Fianna Fáil for four years. But for how much longer? Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

MICHEÁL MARTIN HAS endured a tough old time since becoming Fianna Fáil leader in 2011.

Despite overseeing a steady rebuilding of a party decimated at the general election four years ago, the former cabinet minister has been subjected to repeated speculation about his position.

Martin will almost certainly lead Fianna Fáil into the next election but depending on how the party fairs it’s an open question as to whether he’ll be leading them for much longer after that.

Fianna Fáil recently changed the way it elects its leader with the power of the parliamentary party diluted. Under the new electoral college system ordinary members will account for 45% of the vote, TDs will have 40%, and other elected representatives will have 15%.

So having assessed the runners and riders in the Fine Gael leadership race last weekend, we take a look at the prospects of the various, mostly male, Fianna Fáil leadership contenders this week, from most to least likely…

Michael McGrath

File Photo: Michael McGrath, FF spokesman on Finance has said it would be arrogant of his party not to consider going into government as a junior party. Source: Mark Stedman

The Cork South-Central deputy shares a constituency with Micheál Martin and could potentially edge him out at the general election. But irrespective of what happens there is no doubt the Fianna Fáil finance spokesperson is the favourite for the leadership role.

He may lack the charisma of others but his strong performance in the finance brief has marked him out as one of the party’s most hard-working, talented and capable politicians. One thing that may count against him is his conservative stance on social issues like abortion.

Chances: The strongest contender of the lot. 

Dara Calleary

14/11/2013. European Union International Monetary Fund Bailouts Source: samboal

Talented, hard-working and less stand-offish than McGrath, the Mayo TD is a good reader of the Irish political landscape and would be among the more social Fianna Fáil TDs around Leinster House. This sort of stuff counts when it comes to garnering support for a leadership bid.

When we asked him about his leadership ambitions in January, Calleary gave us a typical politician’s answer: “I don’t wake up every morning thinking: ‘Jaysus, I wanna be leader of Fianna Fáil.’” That’s not exactly a ‘no’.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

Chances: A very strong contender. 

John McGuinness

13/06/2013. Dail Scenes. Pictured The Chairman of Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

Unlike others, the chair of the high-profile Public Accounts Committee has made no secret of his leadership ambitions and is frequently critical of the current incumbent and the direction of the party.

Source: TheJournal.ie/YouTube

The straight-talking Carlow-Kilkenny TD keeps his public profile high with regular media appearances, much to annoyance of some party colleagues. McGuinness’s great strength is his popularity amongst the grassroots (he gets a great reception at ard fheiseanna) but the lack of support among parliamentary colleagues could be his undoing.

Chances: A favourite among the members, but what about TDs? 

Darragh O’Brien 

Fianna Fáil’s Seanad leader is considered a near certainty for a Dáil seat in Dublin Fingal at the next general election. Having lost his seat in 2011, the 41-year-old took up residency in the Seanad and has proved an effective and combative leader in the upper house, regularly helping to orchestrate government defeats.

12/8/2015 Fianna Fail House Repossessions Issues Source: Leah Farrell

O’Brien is a strong media performer and with his return to the Dáil after the next election he would be considered to be among a batch of fresh, young voices that could lead the party into the future. The fact he would likely be the only contender from Dublin might also help.

Chances: The strongest Dublin candidate. 

Niall Collins

16/4/2015. Fianna Fail Drug Problems

The Limerick TD was at the forefront of the opposition efforts to force Alan Shatter out last year and acquitted himself well on several occasions with passionate Dáil speeches.

He has strong Fianna Fáil links with his grandfather and uncle both former TDs and his relative youth would be an asset in any leadership election. But he may lack the star quality of others.

Chances: A reasonably strong contender but perhaps not strong enough. 

Billy Kelleher

23/2/2012 Opposition Responds to Childrens Hospital Source: /Photocall Ireland

The Cork North-Central TD has been a strong performer in the health portfolio despite the fact it took four years for his party to come up with solid policy proposals in the area.

A frequent critic of James Reilly, he was undoubtedly a contributor to the former health minister’s demotion and has also delivered some passionate yet intelligent speeches on the thorny issue of abortion in the Dáil.

Chances: Definitely among the contenders but that may be all 

Eamon Ó Cuív

9/10/2012. Eamon O Cuiv Dail Scenes Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

The Galway West TD would command strong support among rural Fianna Fáil supporters and has strong links to the party’s heritage. He’s also been a frequent critic of the direction of the party in recent years. But, at 64, does he represent the future of Fianna Fáil?

Chances: Age counts against him.   

Thomas Byrne

28/3/2013 Meath East By Elections Campaigns He's the one on the left Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Like O’Brien, Byrne is a former TD who was relegated to the Seanad in 2011 but he’s been a very solid performer in the upper house and is regularly sent out to bat for the party in the media.

Byrne has a good chance of winning back his Dáil seat in Meath East at the general election and could therefore place himself among the leadership hopefuls. At 38 he has youth on his side but that could also mean waiting until the next time out.

Chances: Has a chance but maybe not this time. 

Robert Troy

3/9/2013 Fianna Fail Publishes Investing In Tomorrow Source: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

This first-time TD bucked the trend by winning a Fianna Fáil seat ahead of the more experienced Mary O’Rourke in 2011. The Longford-Westmeath deputy is a passionate performer in the Dáil and is somewhat underrated. At 33 he is definitely one for the future.

Chances: Next time out. 

Willie O’Dea

08/10/2013. Fianna Fail - Social Welfare Amendment Source: samboal

It was the veteran Limerick TD who once remarked that there was “no messiah” who could replace Micheál Martin as leader. It was a less than ringing endorsement of the incumbent but as far as we know O’Dea has no great desire to lead the party.

Having been a prominent member of the last Fianna Fail government he’s perhaps tainted by association. But he is a consistent vote-getter, vastly experienced and has good political instincts. Fianna Fáil could do worse.

Chances: Too many links with the past count against him.

Mary Hanafin

24/5/2014. Counting Begins Source: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

It says a lot about Fianna Fáil’s current problems that Hanafin is the only woman we could think of that represents a chance – a very, very slim chance – of leading the party. The former cabinet minister needs to jump through a lot of hoops before she even comes into contention, not least just getting the party’s nomination in Dún Laoghaire.

Hanafin has huge experience and lots of political knowledge but she’s well down the pecking order when it comes to potential future leaders of the party, underlining Fianna Fáil’s urgent need to get more women into its parliamentary ranks in order change it image of being male, pale and stale.

Chances: Little to none.

Read: Is Renua just ripping off Fianna Fáil’s policies?

Read: Fine Gael’s next leader, from most to least likely

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About the author:

Hugh O'Connell

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