Sam Smyth: Watch out FF, Ahern won't be only one to flee politics
Although he had told the Taoiseach last year that he would not stand at the next general election, Dermot Ahern seriously considered running again last month.
Like others who sat in the hot seat at the Department of Justice he is deeply suspicion of the Shinners and as TD for Louth he was offended by their presumptions in his constituency.
After some days of reflection, Mr Ahern decided that he would stick to his original decision and timetable, where he would announce his intentions to retire in the Christmas holidays.
Then another bolt from the blue -- John Gormley's declaration that the Greens wanted a General Election in January -- prompted him to bring his own announcement forward.
And, just a week before the Budget, a potential leadership contender went public yesterday with his decision not to contest the next election.
It was a body blow for Fianna Fail already reeling from an intensity of public anger that none of them have ever experienced before.
And Ahern's decision to go begged the question: Who's next?
A statement followed the initial shock of Ahern's departure from a former minister and party chairman, Rory O'Hanlon, announcing his intention to stand down.
Watch that space: as many as 35 Fianna Fail TDs, and maybe half of their ministers, will not be returned to the Dail if the opinion polls don't improve -- and there is no reason to assume they will.
Whispers among other Fianna Fail ministers named Noel Dempsey, one of the few cabinet members expected to hold his seat, as considering standing down.
The Transport Minister, who will be 58 in January, has dominated politics in Meath West and, like Ahern, has been a rock of stability in the Fianna Fail party.
It was Dempsey's generation -- he became a TD in 1987 -- that saw off the late Charles Haughey as Taoiseach and his leaving would be a body blow to the organisation.
In the new dispensation, there are only a few ministers who could be a safe bet to be returned for the 31st Dail.
If he runs again, Dempsey would expect to be returned with the Taoiseach in Laois/Offaly and Eamon O Cuiv in Galway West.
The omens for FF ministers are so bad that even high flyers Brian Lenihan and Micheal Martin cannot be certain of retaining their seats.
There are even concerns about Tanaiste Mary Coughlan's seat in that citadel of Fianna Fail hopes in Donegal South West.
Other veteran backbenchers are weighing up the odds of holding their seats and doing cost-benefit analyses of future pay cuts and pension entitlements.
It's every man and woman for themselves in Fianna Fail now: the party will fight an election within weeks when more retirements of sitting TDs are expected and candidates are still not selected.
Green Party leader John Gormley and Communications Minister Eamon Ryan will struggle to hold on. And former PD leader Mary Harney is unlikely to run and face the humiliation ending her career by losing her Dail seat in Dublin Mid-West.
The mountain of problems facing Fianna Fail before and after the next election make Ahern's decision to stand down a considered move for a logical man.
Ahern says he made up his mind to leave politics last year before the tsunami of disasters hit the Government and friends say he had no serious ambitions to be party leader.
Any daydreams he had about assuming the leadership were truncated by his refusal to court cheap popularity or solicit votes in the Dail members' bar.
He was seen as partisan by the opposition but his strident support for Fianna Fail did not endear him to his own backbenchers.
Yet he was always a diligent and dutiful minister, reading his briefs carefully and managing his department with authority.
And while he has regularly courted controversy as Justice Minister, he particularly enjoyed being Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Although he practised as a solicitor, he sold the practice some 15 years ago and hopes to work for Third World causes after his retirement from politics.
Ahern is not from a traditional Fianna Fail family background and only got involved in politics when his football team had a row with the county council. Blackrock Celtic ran him as a candidate to secure a site for a pitch and Fianna Fail headhunted him when he won the seat.
He was elected to the Dail in 1987 and only spent a couple of years on the opposition benches through his career and was a government minister since 1997.