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Hanafin plays the gender card as she launches bid

MARY Hanafin played the gender card as she launched a rather low-key bid to lead Fianna Fail.

The Tourism and Enterprise Minister insisted she was ready to lead the male-dominated Fianna Fail party and become its first female leader.

The minister made her official pitch for the leadership on a visit to 'Showcase Ireland' at the RDS yesterday.

She held a nine-minute doorstep interview with the media, rather than a formal press conference, which the Finance Minister Brian Lenihan opted for.

To the backdrop of craft displays, Ms Hanafin went straight into answering questions from the media and did not make any introductory remarks or statement.

She said she wanted to lead a "renewed movement" and an "inclusive party" that would promote young and talented people.

With 16 backbenchers rushing out to support rival Micheal Martin on Saturday, Ms Hanafin last night advised Fianna Fail TDs against making public declarations.

Instead, she urged TDs to wait to hear the individual pitches from leadership contenders about the future direction of the party.

She denied this was a high-risk strategy that could leave her leadership rivals with major momentum.

"I'm specifically asking that people would not come out and declare because I don't think that's necessary," Ms Hanafin said when asked if TDs would be coming out to publicly support her.

The minister was proposed for the leadership nomination by Community and Transport Minister Pat Carey and backbencher Maire Hoctor.

Ms Hanafin, who voted against the Taoiseach in last week's confidence motion, had always made it clear she would contest the leadership if a vacancy ever arose.

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And she insisted yesterday there should never be a situation where the largest political party in the country is presenting a "team of four men" to contest leadership.

"I'm not saying to people, 'please come out and tell me who you are voting for' because I think it's important we get an opportunity to state our pitch," Ms Hanafin said.

Asked if the FF 'boys' club', which has only eight female TDs, is ready for a female leader, Ms Hanafin said: "I'm ready to lead them. The question is whether they're ready for me to lead them."

The minister insisted there was no animosity between the contenders. And she denied there was any deal with Mr Martin that would see her appointed FF deputy leader.