Cowen's shock as 'good, loyal friend' calls it a day
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen was rocked last night by the surprise decision of another senior minister and loyal ally, Noel Dempsey, not to run in the 2011 General Election.
Fianna Fail's exodus of sitting TDs continued as the Transport Minister became the sixth figure to announce his retirement in the past three weeks.
After serving in Cabinet for over 13 years, Mr Dempsey will pick up a golden goodbye of €313,000. As a retired TD and former minister, Mr Dempsey will get annual pension payments of around €119,800 -- almost €30,000 more than the basic €92,672 salary he would have received if he was an opposition TD after the election.
He follows Dermot Ahern, Beverly Flynn, MJ Nolan, Sean Ardagh and Rory O'Hanlon into retirement.
And there are concerns within the party that several more high-profile figures are planning to bail out before the anticipated election massacre and a lengthy period in opposition.
Despite the efforts of some within Fianna Fail circles to portray the level of retirements as normal, Mr Cowen openly admitted he regretted Mr Dempsey's decision.
Although he denied the party was damaged by the losses, the Taoiseach said he would rather if these high-profile figures were available to run.
"To be frank, you'd rather have them on the team -- good, successful colleagues," he said.
Mr Cowen said it was a "matter of regret" that Mr Dempsey was retiring but it was up to each party member to decide whether to run or not. He described Mr Dempsey as a "very good friend, loyal, forthright, straight-talking, straight down the line".
Mr Dempsey told the Irish Independent that the past two-and-a-half years had brought huge pressures and sleepless nights. And he claimed he had a personal sense of relief when the IMF-EU deal was struck.
"I'm probably a little bit unusual in that when the deal with the IMF-EU was concluded, I felt a sense of relief rather than 'isn't this a terrible thing?'" the minister said.
"From my point of view, that gave us the breathing space to try and work our way out of this over the next three or four years."
Within Fianna Fail circles, there is an anticipation of further retirements. The party is well behind the other parties in selecting its candidates for the 2011 General Election, but expects to hold selection conventions everywhere by the middle of January.
Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe once again denied last night that he would be standing down. But rumours persist about him and Cabinet colleague Tony Killeen, who has fought illness in recent years.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan says he is running, despite his illness.
Former Minister Michael Woods and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern haven't declared their intentions, but many are speculating they won't run again. Despite such speculation, a Christmas leaflet to constituents from Mr Ahern and his constituency colleague Cyprian Brady outlines how they want to work to get Dublin Central out of the recession.
Fianna Fail backbencher Michael Fitzpatrick's battle with motor neurone disease means he is expected to stand down, but the Kildare North TD has indicated locally he may run.
Another problem the party faces over Christmas is that TDs might say they will run, but will then leave it until late to announce their retirement.
MJ Nolan was vehemently denying reports in recent months that he was to stand down, but then announced his retirement this week, placing a question mark on the credibility of those who say they are running.