Batt bails out after insisting he would run

BATT O’KEEFFE resigned as Enterprise Minister and announced he would not contest the election less than 24 hours after insisting the exact opposite.

Rumours had swirled around Leinster House on Wednesday that Mr O’Keeffe would not run again, with one reliable Fianna Fáil source saying he had decided to retire from politics at the election.

But when contacted about the issue that afternoon, Mr O’Keeffe insisted via his spokesman that this was not true, and that he intended to run again.

“It is the minister’s intention to seek selection by the party as a general election candidate in Cork North West at the convention,” the spokesman said.

But yesterday morning, the exact opposite emerged, after Mr O’Keeffe tendered his resignation to the Taoiseach and announced he would not run again.

The Fianna Fáil candidate selection convention for his constituency — Cork North West — had originally been scheduled to take place on Monday, ahead of Tuesday’s motion of confidence in Mr Cowen’s leadership of the party.

Sources said yesterday it was clear that the convention had been postponed because Mr O’Keeffe — a close ally of the Taoiseach — had not wanted to announce his retirement before the vote in case it gave the impression that Mr Cowen was at risk of losing.

According to an Irish Examiner analysis, Mr O’Keeffe could now earn as much as €286,000 in his first year of retirement between lump sum and termination payments.

After that, his combined ministerial and TD pension will be worth circa €84,000 a year.

Mr Cowen told the Dáil yesterday that Mr O’Keeffe had been “one of my best friends in politics and in life”.

Mr O’Keeffe was seen as instrumental in helping Mr Cowen fend off Micheál Martin’s leadership challenge earlier this week — an outcome which numerous Fianna Fáil TDs were beginning to regret yesterday.

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