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Andrew Lynch: Cowen's a dead duck, so who's got the X Factor to save crisis-hit fianna fail?

BRIAN Cowen's humiliation is complete. After 10 days of spoofing and deception, the Taoiseach has finally waved the white flag by formally requesting a rescue package from the EU and IMF.

His robotic performance at last night's press conference in Government Buildings confirmed that it's now time for him to be put out of his misery -- and if his Fianna Fail colleagues have any ambitions to survive beyond the next election, they need to put a new party leader in place by January at the latest.

Blustering

So who might win this political version of the X Factor? Up until now, Brian Lenihan has been widely seen as the public's favourite.

Unfortunately, the Minister for Finance has done himself no favours over the last few days with a series of blustering media interviews and unconvincing denials that might have embarrassed Cowen himself.

Dermot Ahern and Noel Dempsey are both arrogant enough to see themselves as credible occupants of the Taoiseach's office.

Last week, however, they both destroyed their chances in the space of a few seconds as they stood side by side and earnestly insisted that they knew nothing about any potential bailout talks.

That single clip, which is destined to be recycled on some future edition of Reeling In The Years, made them look like nodding dog car accessories and ensured that these Chuckle Brothers are likely to end their careers as national laughing stocks. Micheal Martin's clean-cut image and formidable debating skills make him an obvious contender. However, the Minister for Foreign Affairs recently suffered a terrible family bereavement and has not been seen in public since.

Although he may yet re-emerge, it seems unlikely that he would want to take on such an awesome responsibility just yet.

That leaves Mary Hanafin as the dark horse who is fast coming up the rails. Over the weekend, she once again showed her class by becoming the first cabinet minister to apologise for the Government's failure to level with the public about what has been going on.

She is now one of the very few FF representatives who does not make people want to throw things at their television as soon as she appears.

Right now, what FF urgently needs is a game-changer.

The first woman Taoiseach in history might just be the novelty that gives the Government a fresh look and convinces some voters to give the party one last chance to redeem itself. Hanafin might not win a general election, but she would save an awful lot more seats than Brian Cowen -- allowing FF to rebuild in opposition and challenge for power again in 2016.

The one complication is that Hanafin herself faces a tough battle to get re-elected in Dun Laoghaire, which is moving from a five-seater to a four-seater.

However, the massive profile boost she would receive as Taoiseach should be more than enough to get her over the line.

Slaughtered

Of course it would be a massive risk -- but at this stage in the game, FF should realise that anything is better than just sitting tight and waiting to be slaughtered.

By taking the EU's money, Brian Cowen has signed his own political death warrant.

If his FF colleagues lack the bottle to take him out, the voters will be only too happy to do it for them.


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