FINE Gael's general election hopes were dealt a blow last night by the sudden retirement of one of its long-established TDs.
Bernard Allen (66) had chaired the Dail spending watchdog's investigations into FAS and the banking bailout.
He said last night that he would not be running again in Cork North Central for health-related reasons. "I had a health issue during the summer which knocked me back on my heels. I was told I had one life and I should mind it," he said.
Fine Gael had been hoping to win a second seat in the four-seater constituency, where Mr Allen has been re-elected continuously since 1981. But it will find it much harder now without Mr Allen in the race.
Mr Allen said he believed it was still possible to win two seats as long as the party selected the right candidates.
But he admitted it was difficult to step down at this time.
"After spending since 1987 in the political wilderness, except for two-and-a-half brief years, and now on the verge of hopefully getting back into Government, I have regrets in that respect," he said.
Mr Allen served as a junior minister in the 1995-1997 rainbow government but he said his career highlight had been his chairmanship of the Dail's Public Accounts Committee during the past three years.
"I think we achieved a lot but the committee could achieve a lot more if it's given the powers to get total access to documentation and to override the provisions of the Data Protection Act," he said.
Fine Gael has already selected Cllr Pat Burton, a former auctioneer and maths and science schoolteacher, and Cllr Dara Murphy, a former Lord Mayor of Cork.
Other possible candidates who could be added to the ticket include Cllr Patricia Gosch and former MEP Colm Burke.
Mr Allen said he had informed party leader Enda Kenny of his intentions last week.
"Enda, in fairness, accepted my decision in the manner that I expected from a man who is a gentleman in every way. I'm convinced, despite his critics, that he will be a very effective Taoiseach," he said.
In a statement last night, Mr Kenny paid tribute to Mr Allen for his "exemplary public service" over many years.