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Fionnan Sheahan: Time for young Turks to rise up

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Dara Calleary, one of Fianna Fail's younger TDs hoping for re-election in Mayo and among those touted as eventual party leader

Dara Calleary, one of Fianna Fail's younger TDs hoping for re-election in Mayo and among those touted as eventual party leader

Dara Calleary, one of Fianna Fail's younger TDs hoping for re-election in Mayo and among those touted as eventual party leader

BERTIE Ahern proclaimed himself to be a "young leader for a young country" in his successful bid to become Taoiseach in 1997.

The celebrated 'Prince of Darkness' poster showing a pensive Mr Ahern against a black background with this slogan proved to be a winner.

When he became Fianna Fail leader in December 1994, he was 43 and became Taoiseach at 45 years of age in June 1997.

But in the post-Bertie Ahern era, after the forthcoming General Election, the party's young Turks are talking about electing an even younger leader -- possibly still in their 30s.

The number of younger TDs talking about skipping a generation is growing, with some feeling the likes of Michael Martin, Mary Hanafin and Brian Lenihan are contaminated by their time as ministers in a discredited Government.

"It depends on who is back. You want someone who has the capacity to appeal to younger voters. You've no hope of rehabilitating the party if a group of younger TDs don't come back.

"If we don't even float the idea now (of a younger leader), we'll come back from the election traumatised and go straight into a leadership election," a party TD said.

Of the 40-somethings, junior ministers Peter Power, Sean Connick, Billy Kelleher and Barry Andrews have a degree of experience.

But to truly skip a generation, Fianna Fail will have to look to the class of TDs first elected in 2007. There are a group in their 30s who are regarded as having the credentials to occupy senior positions in the future -- even the leadership.

Unlike the current crop of teachers and lawyers stacking the Cabinet benches, many of the younger guns come from a business background.

Among those whose day might come sooner than expected -- provided they hold their seats -- the following quintet is spoken of as potential leaders in waiting:

Dara Calleary: (37) from Mayo.

Credentials: Mature head on young shoulders, promoted by Brian Cowen to junior minister into the vital public sector reform role, gaining him valuable experience.

Pedigree: His father and grandfather were TDs, so he bypassed the county council route. Worked with Chambers of Commerce before entering politics.

Re-election chances: Won't be easy at all with Fine Gael targeting his seat, but Beverly Flynn's early retirement benefits him.

Thomas Byrne: (33) from Meath East.

Credentials: The most overtly ambitious of the young crop. A solicitor, he is solid in debating and is well able to defend the Government line.

Pedigree: Cousin of former TDs and father is a councillor, but last general election was his first outing.

Re-election chances: Fighting a battle for just one seat with fellow Fianna Fail TD Mary Wallace. No love lost between the pair.

DARRAGH O'BRIEN: (36) from Dublin North.

Credentials: The former insurance company financial manager has street cred and the benefit of a Dublin suburban base. Able communicator with a direct approach.

Pedigree: Elected to county council in 2004 and protege of former Fianna Fail TD, GV Wright.

Re-election chances: He and party colleague Michael Kennedy know only one of them is likely to cling on.

MICHAEL MCGRATH: (34) from Cork South-Central.

Credentials: The accountant has a forensic attention to detail, but is extremely cautious in speaking publicly and cutely keeps his head down.

Pedigree: Grafted out a seat from scratch from town council to county council level to the Dail. Re-election chances: A worry as he is a constituency colleague of Micheal Martin, but the pair make a well-balanced and strong ticket.

NIALL COLLINS: (37) from Limerick County.

Credentials: Extremely smart operator with a good understanding of finance. Not afraid to go against populist stances and has strong opinions.

Pedigree: Fianna Fail royalty as the third generation of the Collins clan. A shrewd chip off the old political block of his Uncle Gerry.

Re-election chances: Difficult, with either him or party colleague John Cregan under immense pressure to hold two seats in a Fianna Fail stronghold.

Irish Independent