It has generally been assumed that- when Bertie Aherne steps down - Brian Cowen will be the next leader of FF and Taoiseach. Much of this belief is driven by the fact that he played a pivotal role in the General Election campaign.
He performed strongly in debates against Richard Bruton by seeking to sow doubts in the minds of the electorate about the Rainbow platform. To a certain extent he succeeded. He managed on most occasions to camouflage inconsistencies in his own position and to avoid questions posed by Mr Bruton.
Now these inconsistencies have returned to haunt him. The Government is facing a deficit of €1.5 billion. Hard decisions on public expenditure are imminent. The Finance Minister must learn to say no. Ambitious spending plans of Ministers may be slashed. This will cost him the support of some Cabinet Ministers and backbenchers. A slow down in the economy could cost him the leadership.
Micheal Martin as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment may escape much of the odium heaped on the Finance Minister. Presiding over factory openings is infinitely preferable to announcing cuts in public expenditure. In addition he will have the support of a huge block of Munster FF TDs and Senators. Mr Martin has been cultivating backbench support.
Dermot Ahern Noel Dempsey Mary Hanafin and possibly Brian Lenihan Jnr will also fancy their chances. Could one of these emerge as a compromise candidate?
Brian Cowen may be the favourite. However a surprise cannot be ruled out. There is many a slip twixt cup and lip.