Hanafin throws hat into ring but rules out heave
TOURISM Minister Mary Hanafin last night remained the only minister to issue a public rallying call for TDs and senators to back her as a future leader.
Ms Hanafin threw her hat into the ring to become Fianna Fail leader, but insisted that she would not move against embattled Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Ahead of last night's crucial meeting of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party to discuss the leadership issue, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan backed Mr Cowen to lead the party into the next General Election.
Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin is still viewed by many Fianna Fail backbenchers as the frontrunner, followed by Ms Hanafin and Mr Lenihan.
Ms Hanafin, who Mr Cowen has twice demoted, yesterday said she would not lead any heave against the Taoiseach. But she said if a vacancy arose she would run for the job.
Yesterday marked the first time she has definitively signalled an interest in running for the top job, having been repeatedly mentioned alongside Mr Lenihan, Mr Martin and Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.
"There is no when about this, it is if. There is no heave, there is no push.
"Whenever in the future, if there is a vacancy -- and it could be a long way down the road -- if the parliamentary party felt they wanted me to throw my hat into the ring I would," Ms Hanafin said.
If people felt it was in the "best interest" of the party and the country, Ms Hanafin said she would seek the leadership.
"If, and this is a very big if, there was a vacancy -- but I don't see that in the immediate future. Our concentration at the moment, and our focus, is the economy," she said.
In September, Mr Martin left the door open to taking over as Fianna Fail leader in future, but pledged his support to the Taoiseach.
He claimed, at the time, that there was no member of the Fianna Fail frontbench who wouldn't like to be leader.
In recent years, Mr Ahern made no secret of his ambitions to be leader, but the Justice Minister is said to be hurt and frustrated by accusations he "lied" over the bailout and believes this may have damaged his ambitions.
Some backbenchers are talking up a Micheal Martin-Mary Hanafin dream team seeking the leadership. But no definite successor has yet emerged.