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Sam Smyth: Young blood have nothing to lose by taking on FF elders

THAT old Queen hit 'Another One Bites The Dust' has gone to No 1 in the political hit parade as yet another denizen of Leinster House announces their retirement.

The attrition rate among Fianna Fail TDs and ministers has quickened as the prospect of a general election looms and older politicians weigh up their options before bowing to the inevitable.

It is civic Darwinism where the survival of the fittest and the elimination of the weakest are a seamless part of the circle of life.

Purging decay built up over a generation is essential for the renewal of the party, its organisation and to reaffirm and realign its reason for existence.

The question is: can Fianna Fail confound their adversaries and the opinion polls, rebuild its base and resurrect the dream of its founders in 1926?

Yesterday, former minister Michael Woods joined the minister for justice, the minister for defence and the minister for transport while speculation grows about when the minister for health will announce that she isn't standing.

No one who knows him doubts that Tony Killeen, who has already suffered cancer, is quitting politics on medical advice but Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern's decisions to stand down surprised many.

No one who knows Mary Harney well expects her to fight the next election and questions have been raised about the intentions of other ministers.

Bertie Ahern (59) had announced he would retire from the Dail at 60 and made an eloquent speech to that effect last week but the former Taoiseach has been unpredictable recently. Batt O'Keeffe was expected to announce his retirement but decided to run again when it was clear that his close friend Brian Cowen would lead Fianna Fail into the election in March.

So far 11 Fianna Fail TDs and ministers have announced their intentions and others are expected to bow out over the coming weeks.

Seven Fine Gael and three Labour TDs will also stand down even though their parties are expected to be in government in a few months.

And if Jim McDaid is included, 24 TDs will not be standing at the next election -- and by the time April comes around a lot more will have lost their seats in the contest.

Only a fool would write off the State's most successful political party and a nucleus of a born-again Fianna Fail is gaining momentum while the old guard awaits its fate.

While conventional wisdom has Micheal Martin a favourite to replace Mr Cowen as leader with Mary Hanafin and Brian Lenihan taking major roles, others have a very different vision.

Young bloods like Dara Calleary, Thomas Byrne, Darragh O'Brien, Michael McGrath, Sean Connick and Neill Collins have already had talks. They are inspired by the party's new press officer, Pat McParland, who arrived in Leinster House laden down with ideas.

Over recent months the younger TDs have exchanged ideas about seizing the party from the dead-man's grip that followed Fianna Fail's domination of politics over the past generation.

Some of them believe that Mr Cowen will show his worth in the election campaign facing down Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore.

And after a bracing campaign, Mr Cowen will win a stay of execution and appoint the young bloods to key positions.

Mary Hanafin did remind them that the ambitious newcomers could be among the many casualties who lose their seats in the upcoming election.

The Class of 2007, the first-time Fianna Fail TDs elected that year, believe they have nothing to lose by taking on the party elders.

Irish Independent