Brendan Howlin's decision not to run is somewhat surprising. He is on the left wing of the party and yet is seen as close to FF. This is a major disadvantage for aspiring candidates. He is especially remembered for his comments in relation to the Mullingar Accord. He said that he did not wish for Labour to become cheer leaders for Enda. He was nailing his colours to the FF coalition mast.
The decision of Michael D Higgins-also on the left wing of the party- to support Eamon Gilmore was a major blow for Howlin. At this stage there appears to be a groundswell of support towards Eamon Gilmore. Howlin detected this and opted out. A third failure to secure the leadership would be unthinkable.
His position as Leas Ceann Comhairle would be an issue in the course of the campaign if he failed to resign. In such an event he would then be seen as hedging his bets.
Obviously a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.