BRIAN Cowen will retire on a severance package worth €300,000 as he becomes the first sitting Taoiseach in the history of the State not to contest a general election.
Mr Cowen's decision to quit politics -- announced last night -- left Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin with another candidate selection headache ahead of the official start of the 2011 General Election campaign.
Polling day is expected to be Friday, February 25, but Mr Cowen does have the option of going as far as Wednesday, March 2 to give Fianna Fail more time to get its campaign in gear.
After a short Dail sitting this afternoon, Mr Cowen will head to Aras an Uachtarain to ask President Mary McAleese to dissolve the Dail.
Following his resignation as Fianna Fail leader a week ago, Mr Cowen became the 20th party TD to announce he was retiring at this election.
Last night, there was speculation about another two Fianna Fail TDs, both close friends of Mr Cowen's -- his Laois-Offaly constituency colleague, junior minister John Moloney, and Limerick TD John Cregan.
Former Defence Minister Tony Killeen was last night appointed as the party's director of elections while veteran spindoctor PJ Mara is chairperson of the election committee.
But for the first time in 84 years, the Blaney name will be absent from the ballot paper in Donegal North-East.
Following the shock withdrawal of sitting TD Niall Blaney, his brother Liam confirmed he would not be putting his name forward.
Niall Blaney's decision to retire came just weeks after he told his supporters that his eight-and-a-half-year marriage had ended by mutual consent, and he and his wife, Rosaleen, had agreed to separate.
The couple have three children, aged between one and four.
Mr Cowen will be immediately entitled to two pensions worth around €150,000 a year on his retirement and a lump sum payment of €150,000.
The Taoiseach has almost 27 years' service in the Dail, which means he qualifies for a full TD's pension worth around €50,000 per year.
And he will be entitled to a ministerial pension of around €100,000 per year based on his Taoiseach's salary.
Mr Cowen will also receive a tax-free pension lump sum of around €150,000 -- three times the value of his TD's pension -- and a termination lump sum of around €16,000.
As a former Taoiseach, he will also qualify automatically for a state car with a garda driver. However, this practice is currently being reviewed by Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan.
Mr Cowen said Mr Martin had left it to him to decide upon his future and there was no problem between the pair.
He said he had no plans for the future. "I feel that, having had time to reflect and discuss it with my own family, where my own life is and the direction of my own life, it would be best for me to step back from politics and give others now the opportunity." His departure overshadowed the new FF leader's announcement of his frontbench.
Mr Martin made Mary Hanafin his deputy leader and brought back Willie O'Dea to the front ranks of the party.
Mr Cowen's departure has caused a rift within the local party organisation in Laois-Offaly.
His brother, Barry Cowen, is expected to be nominated as a candidate to replace him.
But FF will run only one candidate in each county, sparking a row.
Despite having three sitting TDs in the constituency in Mr Cowen, Mr Moloney and Sean Fleming, the party now believes this strategy is the best chance of securing two seats.
Mr Martin extended his best wishes to the Taoiseach.
"He has served in almost every major department of state and he leaves behind a legacy of achievement in each of them."