JUNIOR Minister Michael Finneran shocked colleagues in Fianna Fail last night by announcing that he would not be running in the General Election
The news will come as an even bigger blow to Taoiseach Brian Cowen because Mr Finneran is one of his close allies in the party.
He becomes the ninth Fianna Fail TD to rule himself out of politics in recent months, as the exodus from the party's ranks continues ahead of an expected election drubbing.
Mr Finneran (63) had declared his intention to stand again in his Roscommon-South Leitrim constituency to this newspaper and his local radio station as recently last November.
But last night, he told party colleagues in his constituency that he would not be running.
It comes just days after former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern announced that he would not be running.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern and Transport Minister Noel Dempsey will also be stepping down at the General Election -- now expected in mid- to late-March.
Other Fianna Fail TDs who have recently announced their retirements include Beverley Flynn (Mayo); MJ Nolan (Carlow Kilkeny); Tom Kitt (Dublin South); Sean Ardagh (Dublin South Central); and Rory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan).
Mr Finneran will qualify for a TD's pension -- although it will be smaller than some of his retiring colleagues because he has just eight years' service in the Dail.
Ten years' service is required to qualify for a full pension.
He will also be entitled to a small ministerial pension based on his service as a junior minister.
It means that Fianna Fail now faces another headache to find a candidate capable of holding onto his seat in the three-seat constituency.
In a bizarre twist, his announcement came on the same day that Cllr Rachel Doherty announced she would not be running- because she believed Mr Finneran would have the best chance of getting re-elected on his own. But she may reconsider her decision following his shock announcement.