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Lise Hand: Out with the old and in with Martin's Dolly Mixture dream team

HOW exciting. Having risen magnificently from the opinion-poll ashes like a Cork Phoenix only days after taking on the dubious honour of leading Fianna Fail into what promises to be a torrid (and horrid) election campaign, Micheal Martin yesterday unveiled his Brave New Frontbench to the, eh, waiting world.

Surely his team of spokespersons would be a marvel to behold -- a harmonious choir of fresh-faced Young Turks promoted from the junior officer ranks or plucked from the obscurity of the backbenches.

They surely would be all hungry new recruits willing to quick-march towards the roar of the campaign cannon, rather than ranks of battle-scarred veterans desperate to dodge questions about what exactly they had all been up to in Cabinet for the past decade or so.

And just after 3.30pm, out they all streamed from Leinster House and on to the plinth, led by a beaming Micheal.

Uh-oh, how mortifying -- Willie O'Dea had obviously just got caught up in the crowded rush for the plinth and was swept along by the herd. And surely the same had happened to Marc McSharry, for he's a senator, not a TD. And who the heck were the two unfamiliar lassies on one side of the party leader?

And why was Mary Hanafin looking like a cat that had just swallowed a particularly well-upholstered canary?

But no. This was indeed Micheal's Dolly-Mixture Dream Team -- a confection of familiar faces, faithful lieutenants, former rebels, leadership rivals and total newbies. All that was missing was an owl and Gaybo and a draw for a new hatchback -- for by golly there was something for everyone in the Fianna Fail audience.

And when it came to selecting a new Robin to his Batman, Micheal decided to stick with a tried and tested wing-woman by making Mary Hanafin his deputy, describing her glowingly as "a woman of considerable experience".

He also left five of the seven remaining ministers with their original portfolios, which means that they are simultaneously government ministers and Fianna Fail spokespersons, while Mary Hanafin got a brand new portfolio of Environment and Local Government.

Nor had Willie O'Dea wandered into the gang by accident, for it turns out that Micheal had rolled away the stone in front of the tomb of Limerick's Lazarus and appointed him spokesman on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

There might be some head-scratching over the Limerick Lazarus, but it was minor in comparison to the raising of eyebrows that met his newfangled notion of head-hunting spokespersons from outside the ranks of Dail deputies.

Mindful of the wojus dearth of women in the party, Micheal gave the nod to Councillor Mary Fitzpatrick as spokeswoman on Housing and Social Development.

He also picked Averil Power, who was until recently special adviser to Mary Hanafin and she's a first-time Dail candidate for Dublin North East, to speak on the thorny subject of Political Reform.

BUT these days Fianna Fail is like one of those Wild West saloons -- one never knows just whose form will emerge through the party's swing-doors.

There had been rumours Mary Coughlan was to resign her Donegal seat, but there she was in the line-up, putting a brave face on it and insisting that she was running again.

However at 7.30 last night, the swing-doors flapped open once again, and out came Brian Cowen. He told Midlands Radio he would not go forward for election in Laois-Offaly, and that it was time to give Micheal and his Dolly-Mixture Dream Team "a break".

And so Cowen's final act will be to dissolve the 30th Dail today and make the trek to the Park. And then begins the hanging of posters, the knocking on doors, the kissing of babies, the high-speed shaking of hands, the bickering, fighting and mud-slinging.

Break, what break?

Irish Independent