Hurling star in pole position as Enright steps down
HURLING legend Brian Whelahan is among the early favourites to replace Olwyn Enright on the Fine Gael ticket at the next election.
But party strategists are not ruling out a member of the extended Enright family running in the Laois-Offaly constituency.
Ms Enright announced her intention now to stand down at the next general election in order to allow the candidate replacing her time to prepare for the campaign.
However, Ms Enright told the Irish Independent that she does not expect one of her family to be on the ticket.
Nevertheless, Fine Gael sources are not writing off the prospect of her brother, Kenneth, or her sister, Gemma, showing an interest.
The Enright family has held the seat for the past 40 years. Ms Enright's father, Tom, was a TD from 1969 to 2002, aside from five years in the Seanad after he lost his seat in 1992. He returned to the Dail in 1997.
Mr Enright is an extremely popular figure in the party and still keeps a close eye on political developments in the constituency.
Aside from the immediate Enright family, there is a strong chance a local hurling hero will become the party's candidate.
Ms Enright's mother, Rita, is a close relative of the former Offaly players Gary and Rory Hanniffy -- a link of which party strategists are well aware.
But the immediate speculation surrounds Brian Whelahan, a former teammate of the Hanniffy brothers with Birr and Offaly. He ran for Fine Gael in last year's local elections.
The All-Ireland-winning hero is the only player from the modern era to be named on the GAA hurling team of the millennium and is widely regarded as one of the finest hurlers of his generation.
Although he performed poorly in the local elections, a senior party source says he will be looked at as a possible replacement for Ms Enright.
"You can't rule him out as he's known in every house," the source said.
Fine Gael will still be expected to hold its two seats in Laois-Offaly, but there is no guarantee that Ms Enright's replacement will become a TD.
The party will be running two candidates in Offaly. Ms Enright's replacement will be based in Birr in the south of the county and either Cllr Liam Quinn from Rhode or Cllr Nichola Hogan from Edenderry will run in the northern end.
Ms Enright's constituency colleague, Charlie Flanagan TD, said he was sorry to hear that she would not be contesting the next general election, adding that she would be sadly missed.
He said: "Olwyn and her father Tom have served as Fine Gael TDs since 1969 and both have made a very significant contribution at national and local level".
Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness said Ms Enright's announcement was probably one of the most difficult decisions she had ever had to make.
She added: "With an incisive mind, dedication and commitment to public life, she has brought great honour not only to the Fine Gael party, but also to her family and her constituency."