Deputies of Ireland's governing Fianna Fail party are expected to select Finance Minister Brian Cowen next Wednesday to succeed Prime Minister Bertie Ahern when he steps down in May.
Cowen has long been seen as the most likely next leader of the party that has governed Ireland for 11 years, and on Thursday received the backing of his fellow Fianna Fail cabinet members, including those seen as potential candidates.
Cowen, 48, is regarded a safe pair of hands to guide the economy through a period of sharply slowing growth after a decade of spectacular development, and ministers said they trust him to represent Ireland on the international stage.
Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said he would not run for the job and would support Cowen, a former foreign minister himself, though he thought it unfair that Bertie Ahern had named Cowen as his preferred successor.
"I don't often criticise the Taoiseach (prime minister) but I do believe it shouldn't be for an outgoing Taoiseach to in effect put his hand on somebody," Dermot Ahern said.
If elected by fellow deputies, Cowen's most pressing task will be to secure a "yes" vote in a referendum expected on June 12, when Irish voters will determine the fate of the European Union's reform treaty.
EU Affairs Minister Dick Roche also pointed to Cowen's experience in running EU summits and his role in the Northern Ireland peace process, seen as Ahern's most lasting legacy.
"Brian Cowen is without doubt the brightest mind in Dail Eireann (lower house of parliament)," Roche said.
He is popular among party members, enjoys a good party and when the mood takes him he can be a bruising sparring partner—as he showed last September when he launched an animated and impassioned defence of Ahern in parliament.
Most reassuringly for his party, his time in the Department of Finance means he offers both expertise and a sense continuity as Ireland's Celtic Tiger economy enters choppy waters.
"The person who is going to take over will be the most experienced minister in that regard," said Oliver Mangan, Chief Bond Economist at AIB Global Treasury.
A Reuters poll on Thursday showed economists have cut their forecasts for economic growth this year to 2.3 percent, less than half the rate seen in recent years.