Exodus from Fianna Fáil as three more TDs retire

Fianna Fáil saw further exodus of some of its most familiar faces last night as two more sitting TDs announced they will not contest the general election. This morning, Galway East TD Noel Tracy also said he will not stand in the upcoming election.  By Alison Spillane

The resignations of Ned O'Keeffe, Noel Ahern, and Noel Tracy brings to 19 the number of Fianna Fáil deputies who have thus far decided to stand down. This does not include Donegal South West's Pat the Cope Gallagher who resigned his Dáil seat in June 2009 following his election to the European Parliament.

Cork East TD Ned O'Keeffe (pictured) has been a particularly vocal critic of his party in recent times. He openly criticised Taoiseach Brian Cowen's attempt to appoint six new ministers last week saying it would be viewed as a cynical move by members of the public. He also called for Cowen's resignation, spoke openly about the party's dire prospects in the upcoming election and described the €430,000 salary of Nama boss Brendan McDonagh as a "crime on our society".

Noel Ahern, brother of former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, announced his intention to step down at the party's selection convention in Dublin's North West constituency last night.

First elected to Dáil Eireann in 1992, there was some speculation Mr Ahern has been asked to step down to avoid splitting the Fianna Fáil vote with fellow TD Pat Carey who is also running in the constituency. It will be a huge challenge for Pat Carey to secure 20% of the vote in the four-seat Dublin North West.  While admitting the move was part of an electoral strategy, Ahern said he had been under no pressure from the party to step aside.

Despite being nominated by Fianna Fail to contest the upcoming election in Galway East, Noel Tracy said this morning he would not stand in the general election due to health concerns.

In early December Noel Whelan wrote that the rumours of a huge Fianna Fáil exodus were greatly exagerrated. Admittedly it was early days at that stage (only four FF TDs had officially announced their retirement) but it appears his prediction that "the pattern of retirements for the forthcoming election is unlikely to differ from previous elections" was far from accurate.

Mr Whelan was correct in his observation that as a general rule between 15 and 25 sitting TDs always retire at each election; to date 35 TDs elected in 2007 will not stand in this year's election. Following the agreement of a timetable for the passing of the Finance Bill yesterday it is widely anticipated the election will now take place on 25 February.

To put this in perspective, in advance of the 2007 general election a total of 19 sitting TDs retired; 12 of these were from Fianna Fáil. The 2002 general election saw 23 sitting TDs retire, nine of these were from Fianna Fail. Nine TDs from Fianna Fail also retired ahead of the 1997 general election, out of a total of 17. The number of Fianna Fail TDs elected in 2007 that will not stand for re-election eclipses the total number of retirees across all parties in advance of the 2007 general election.

Whelan does make a valid point about the combined factors of age, career length and pension entitlements but it is clear we are looking at much higher retirement numbers this time around.

He also argues that a stampede of retirements would be beneficial to the party as there is currently a risk of vote-splitting; this was certainly a key factor in Noel Ahern's retirement but with O'Keeffe Fianna Fáil are losing a consistent poll-topper who has successfully held his seat since 1982. Noel Tracy too has held his seat since being elected in the Galway East by-election of July 1982 (the last TD to win a by-election for a sitting government).

With a February election now likely Fianna Fail is yet to formally nominate candidates in around 14 constituencies. It is also short on time to familiarise the electorate with new candidates, a process both Labour and Fine Gael have already started.

Senator Alex White, who will represent Labour in Dublin South, has become much more prominent in recent weeks and high-profile banking expert Peter Mathews recently appeared on Tonight with Vincent Browne as a Fine Gael candidate in the same constituency.

Fianna Fáil Senator Maria Corrigan will also run in Dublin South, contesting the seat of outgoing TD Tom Kitt. Yet she has not been prominent in the national media. As well as Mathews and White, Maria Corrigan will compete with another high-profile candidate, Independent Senator Shane Ross.

It is also rumoured that Brian Cowen will not contest the election. The Taoiseach is due to make a statement this afternoon on the matter.