By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith
Former Fianna Fáil education minister Mary Hanafin has said she is "not just running to be sitting on the back benches" after her party leader downplayed the possibility of her returning to the front bench should she win back a Dáil seat.
The candidate in the Dun Laoghaire constituency in south Dublin confirmed she is standing in order to "influence policy, and that's as a front bench person or as a minister", after party leader Micheal Martin appeared to emphasise his desire to promote a new generation of TDs to the roles.
Asked a number of times if he would endorse his former cabinet colleague's return to the front bench after the general election in an interview with the Irish Examiner, Mr Martin instead outlined his determination to give a new generation of TDs opportunities.
"Do you know who has pushed more in this parliamentary party? The newer members. This notion of the old hierarchical view of life, it's gone. The idea I've served my time so I'm entitled to something is gone," Mr Martin said when asked about his former cabinet colleague's future prospects.
"Whoever gets elected will have a role to play. But I will be basing it on talent, energy and commitment, and will not be guided by any other issues other than what I said - talent, commitment, energy," he said.
After name-checking a number of first-time TDs - including children's spokesperson Robert Troy and environment spokesperson Barry Cowen - who have achieved a high-profile since assuming front bench duties in 2011, Mr Martin said he is keen to continue to promote younger colleagues.
However, while describing the question as "mischief", responding to the suggestion at today's Fianna Fáil ard fheis at the City West Hotel in Dublin, Ms Hanafin said she wants to return to the front-line of national politics.
"My first challenge obviously is to get re-elected in a three seat constituency with the ceann comhairle, that in itself being very honest with it is a huge huge challenge.
"But I think anybody who's running for election wants to be running where they can influence policy, and that's as a front bench person or as a minister, and I'm standing for election to be able to do that.
"I'm running to be elected as a TD, not just running to be sitting on the back benches. I can represent my constituency on the council [Ms Hanafin won a seat on Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council last year], which I'm very happy doing at the moment.
"But if you're going to be elected a TD you want to influence policy at a national level, and that's what I'm aiming for," she said.
Former education minister Ms Hanafin ignored a party decision for her not to run in the 2014 Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council local elections, ultimately winning a seat alongside Kate Feeney and causing a significant headache for the party in its bid to build support for a new candidate in the area.
The issue returned during the constituency's 2015 general election selection convention, with Ms Hanafin being added to the planned one-person ticket after narrowly losing out to another new candidate Cormac Devlin who received transfers from Ms Feeney.
Mr Devlin criticised the decision to add Ms Hanafin at the time as it could potentially split the vote, a position dismissed by Fianna Fáil headquarters which officially welcomed the fact it will have two candidates.