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O'Keeffe insists Cowen is best person for party

FORMER Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe last night insisted he was leaving politics for family reasons.

And the man who was Brian Cowen's closest ally in the Cabinet insisted the embattled Taoiseach was still the best person to lead Fianna Fail into the general election despite the "extraordinary" events of the past 48 hours.

In an interview with the Irish Independent, Mr O'Keeffe said he was still "in shock" at the manner in which the Green Party treated Mr Cowen on Thursday.

"Brian Cowen is a good friend, a superb person and a politician of tremendous integrity who has always tried to put the nation's interests first. He has always acted very honourably. Frankly, I think he deserved better treatment than he received last Thursday," he said.

Mr O'Keeffe rejected suggestions he was asked to resign -- and said he made his mind up late last Wednesday night that it was time to bring the curtain down on a political career spanning more than three decades.

"I knew it was time to go -- and I have no regrets about that. It has been a tough two years or so due to the economic circumstances but it was a great honour to have served in Cabinet," he said.

He dismissed suggestions the future of his party was now at stake in the March 11 election, claiming the party had a pool of very talented young politicians.

He also revealed that he would support Micheal Martin as Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach -- but only if Mr Cowen indicated he was not willing to continue in the posts.

The Cork North West TD said that he held Mr Martin in the highest respect -- and claimed that he had the makings of an outstanding Fianna Fail leader.

"If Brian Cowen was not in the picture regarding the party leadership there is no question but that I would support Micheal. I think he would fit the bill for FF and the country," Mr O'Keeffe said.

"He (Mr Martin) is highly intelligent and impressed me very much at cabinet level."

Mr O'Keeffe insisted that his decision to retire from national politics was taken for purely personal reasons.

Despite repeated statements that he would defend his Dail seat, he said he made his mind up last Wednesday night that it was time to go.

"The reality is that if I won a seat I would probably be a backbench TD for five years and would be 70 years of age for the next general election," he said.

"That is not something that I would look forward to -- and there are other things in life that I want some extra time for now."

Irish Independent