A SERIES of disastrous poll ratings for the Labour Party, culminating in the 6 per cent result in last Tuesday's Irish Times, coupled with Eamon Gilmore's own toxic performance rating, has caused some to start wondering who could replace him.
Social Protection Minister and deputy Labour Party leader Joan Burton has been viewed as a constant thorn in the side of Eamon Gilmore, since he failed to appoint her as one of the two finance ministers.
She had – up until last week when she stood firmly by him – given only very qualified expressions of support for Gilmore. Burton has also repeatedly been linked with a move on Gilmore, but while she has been a major destabilising force to the party leader, she is not a realistic challenger to his crown.
At 64, she is four years older than her leader, and one would have to say age is not on her side. But the real reason why she is not a credible challenger for the leadership is that while Joan is adored by the media and is popular among the public, she is not sufficiently well liked by her party colleagues.
They see her as unreliable and many see her as a sole trader, concentrating more on Team Joan than Team Labour.
Of the other Labour ministers, both Ruairi Quinn and Pat Rabbitte, aged 67 and 64 respectively, are former Labour leaders and have no interest in going back there again.
That leaves Brendan Howlin. Now aged 57, he was defeated in the leadership race in 1997 by Quinn and in 2002 by Rabbitte. While he is quite the accomplished parliamentarian and "thoroughly loves being in Government", Howlin is considered aloof by some of his colleagues and may not be liked enough to secure the leadership.
His standing in the party has improved in recent months over his handling of the Haddington Road Agreement talks.
Ultimately, all of the Labour Cabinet ministers have been around for decades now, and should Gilmore be forced from office, the party may wish to look to the next generation.
As things stand, junior health minister Alex White would have to be considered as a strong contender.
The former RTE producer-turned-barrister, who represents the Dublin South constituency, is a popular presence within government, and has shown an appetite to work with rather than against the troublesome Dr James Reilly at the Department of Health. White's natural communication skills make him an obvious candidate for leader, and he certainly fits the middle-class mould many feel is needed for the leadership.
Another name often mentioned as a future possible leader is rising star Sean Sherlock, who made his name in the previous Dail.
Sherlock, aged 40, is from Mallow in Co Cork and succeeded his father Joe as a TD. Sherlock has disappointed some in his performance as junior minister but is adamant that real reforms have been progressed by him, including in relation to copyrights.
But his easygoing style and affability make him a genuine contender, and the party may favour going out of Dublin in a bid to grow the party's base.
Kathleen Lynch has also pleased many in her party with her performance in government in the area of mental health, but some have questioned whether she is the complete package needed to be leader.
Junior transport minister and former MEP Alan Kelly is another who is known to harbour leadership ambitions, but isn't at this stage to be considered a front-runner, while Jan O'Sullivan would also only be considered as an outside bet, should the leadership become available.
Yet on the backbenches, a number of strong candidates loom large. Contenders would include the popular Cork South West TD Michael McCarthy. He spent nine years in the Seanad before being elected to the Dail at his first attempt in 2011.
Outspoken yet considered, McCarthy is a tough cookie – which may count against him, but he is certainly no pushover. He may be an outside bet at this stage, but he certainly has ambitions for a greater role.
Another future hope of the party is Galway West TD Derek Nolan, who has distinguished himself since his election in 2011. Considered to be very loyal to the current leadership, Nolan has excelled on the Public Accounts Committee, and has proved himself to be a strong performer in the media. Given his baby-face image, his tilt at the leadership may be a longer game, but he is certainly seen by many as a future guardian of the party's soul.
The major problem for any of the Labour leadership hopefuls is that given the party's extreme drop in public support, not one of them would be secure in the knowledge of being returned at the next election. While The Irish Times poll had Labour at six per cent, the most recent Sunday Independent Millward Brown poll had the party on 10 per cent, its natural support level.
But given the reduction in TDs next time from 166 to 158 and given that 17 of the party's 37 seats won in 2011 were the last or second last seats, many of the hopefuls face the real risk of being unceremoniously dumped by the electorate.