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Day of drama as votes tally in Micheal's favour

ON THE way in, all sides were talking up the hands they were going to play.

On the way out, they said one man won hands down.

The meeting which decided the eighth leader of Fianna Fail got under way at 2pm yesterday and Micheal Martin's emphatic victory over Eamon O Cuiv, Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin was announced just an hour later.

Before the meeting, one TD in the Lenihan camp claimed they had 27 votes in the bag, while Mr O Cuiv's supporters seemed confident of a good result, if not victory.

Mr Martin's camp were confident but not cocky, and TDs making their way to the lifts in Leinster House to get to the party rooms on the fifth floor seemed sure the former foreign affairs minister had it in the bag.

Both Mr O Cuiv, who gained a lot of late momentum, and Ms Hanafin had supporters milling around, adding to the sense of expectation.

Just after TDs filed into the party rooms, Taoiseach Brian Cowen got to his feet and delivered a farewell address.

Mr Cowen, who has yet to decide whether to run in his Laois-Offaly constituency in the general election, thanked TDs for their loyalty, said it was an honour to lead the party and vowed to fully support the new leader.

Mr Cowen spoke for over five minutes and was given a three-minute standing ovation afterwards.

After Mr Cowen's speech, there was a short break to fill a Dail quorum.

Before the leadership vote, parliamentary party chairman John Browne outlined the procedure to TDs, and then the formal proposal and seconding of each candidate took place.

The secret ballot took place in four rooms off from the main parliamentary party room.

Cork North-West TD Michael Moynihan and Cavan-Monaghan's Dr Rory O'Hanlon acted as tellers, as they had done during last week's confidence motion.

Mr Browne announced the result at 3pm, and Mr Martin was given a standing ovation.

Mr Martin was congratulated, while Mr Lenihan looked glum as he took in the news of his heavy defeat.

After the vote, deputies returned to the party rooms where the full scale of Mr Martin's victory became clear.

Mr Martin was 18 votes ahead of nearest rival Mr O Cuiv on the first count, when Ms Hanafin was eliminated. By the final count, Mr Martin was on 50 votes with Mr O Cuiv following on 22.

Mr Lenihan, although tying with Mr O Cuiv after Ms Hanafin's votes were distributed, was eliminated because he had less first preference votes.

Irish Independent