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Michael Martin now favourite to succeed Brian Cowen as leader of Fianna Fail

Michael Martin has emerged as the favourite to become the next leader of Fianna Fail if Brian Cowen resigns or is forced out by backbenchers over the coming weeks, according to a new radio poll.

More than 3,000 listeners to RTE's Liveline programme yesterday installed the Foreign Minister as the preferred candidate to succeed Mr Cowen.

A total of 38% of the Liveline listeners who took part in yesterday's text poll said they would like to see Mr Martin become the next leader of Fianna Fail. He was followed by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan on 27% and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin on 26%.

Tanaiste and Education |Minister Mary Coughlan drew a dismal 4% of listeners' support. That's the same level as Justice Minister Dermot Ahern.

Bottom of the list of the six candidates offered by the programme was Transport Minister Noel Dempsey. Just 2% of listeners said he would be the best potential leader of Fianna Fail.

The Green Party's announcement yesterday prompted |bookies Paddy Power to suspend betting on the election date.

The firm installed Enda Kenny as clear favourite at 4-7 (in from 4-5) to be the next Taoiseach with Eamon Gilmore next at 13-8 (from 9-4) and Brian Cowen unchanged at 9-1. Also quoted are Mr Lenihan and Mr Martin at 12-1, Ms Hanafin at 16-1 and Mr Ahern at 25-1.

On the formation of a new government, a Fine Gael/ Labour coalition is on offer at the prohibitive odds of 1-10, after being on offer at 1-4 prior to the weekend.

Fine Gael are 2-5 favourites to win the most seats ahead of Labour at 15-8 with Fianna Fail a forlorn hope in the betting at 14-1. Mr Martin continues to head the contenders to replace Mr Cowen as leader of Fianna Fail and is available at 11-8.

Belfast Telegraph