Martin admits leadership ambition

MICHEÁL MARTIN last night laid bare his leadership ambitions as the cabinet rallied around the embattled Taoiseach.

While insisting there was no current vacancy and that the controversy over Brian Cowen’s disastrous appearance on Morning Ireland was now behind the Government, the Foreign Minister admitted he and other cabinet members harbour desires to head Fianna Fáil.

“There is not a member of the Fianna Fáil frontbench who wouldn’t like to be leader of Fianna Fáil, but it’s not about individuals or personalities,” he said while attending a UN conference in New York.

Mr Martin, a front runner to succeed Mr Cowen, along with Brian Lenihan and Dermot Ahern, has given his backing to the embattled Taoiseach.

Mr Cowen insisted he would not allow a special Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting to discuss the fallout from his disastrous appearance on Morning Ireland last week as demanded by some backbenchers.

Pressure on Mr Cowen from within his own party appeared to lessen, but a hard core of rebels are believed to be holding further fire until opinion polls are published in the next 10 days.

The intervention of Independent TDs Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy- Rae, to say their backing would not extend to a new Fianna Fáil leader, also helped stabilise Mr Cowen’s position, as an alternative leader would find it harder to make the Dáil numbers work without them.

After appearing to distance himself from the Taoiseach, junior minister Conor Lenihan said he expected and wanted Mr Cowen to lead Fianna Fáil into the next general election. Agriculture Minister Brendan Smith insisted Fianna Fáil was united and Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said the matter was “all finished and done”.

Mr Cowen used a lull in criticism of his leadership to launch a strong attack on Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny’s prediction there would be a general election in the next six months.

“I think Enda has made that prediction about four times since he became leader of the party. He seems to have nothing else to speak about. We don’t have that luxury,” Mr Cowen said.

Mr Kenny hit back saying the country’s international reputation had been damaged by the aftermath of Mr Cowen’s Morning Ireland interview.

“When the Taoiseach speaks of respect for the office, in a way it’s time for him to show respect for that office himself. It’s not just about an individual, this is about the international and national perception of our Government and our country and us as a people,” Mr Kenny said.

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