Cowen: I'm not 'on probation'

Cowen: I'm not 'on probation'

Taoiseach Brian Cowen tonight insisted he was not "on probation" as speculation over his leadership reached fever pitch.

In an unexpected press briefing in front of Government Buildings, Mr Cowen declared his Fianna Fáil party was united behind him.

"I'm speaking to the Irish people as Taoiseach," he said.

"I want to make sure that everyone understands that they have a Government that has a working stable majority, that will do its work as it has been doing it before."

Mr Cowen was joined by his Finance Minister Brian Lenihan who earlier said he was not aware of any planned revolt against the Taoiseach.

But despite a slew of senior Fianna Fáil figures lining up to back Mr Cowen's leadership, the fall-out of his now notorious radio interview from the party's think-in in Galway last week shows no sign of abating.

Urging a special meeting of the parliamentary party, former Fianna Fáil Government chief whip Tom Kitt said something needed to be done about the controversy in the days ahead.

"The Galway incident in my view was a once-off thing, the Taoiseach has apologised for that, but there is this broader issue of connectivity with the public," he said.

"I would have the view that the time has come to move on to new leadership."

Mr Kitt, who was sacked as Government Chief Whip by Mr Cowen two years ago, said the Irish people want a leader who can create a climate of positivity.

"There are people out there trying to get jobs, people trying to get money for business, and there is a need to bring people with you," he said.

"Sadly this hasn't been working under the current leadership."

Backbencher Mr Kitt insisted there was a "growing mood there for change" within Fianna Fail.

Responding to calls for a special meeting of his parliamentary party, Mr Cowen said there were formal processes to go through if anyone wanted to demand one.

John Curran, Fianna Fáil's current chief whip, said the next scheduled parliamentary party meeting was in two weeks' time and he saw no demand for a special gathering in the meantime.

The Taoiseach dismissed suggestions he was forced to put on a show of strength because of any international reaction to last week's radio broadcast.

"I'm not a Taoiseach on probation," he said.

"I'm the elected leader of our party. I've got the full support of my Government colleagues."

Earlier, Mr Lenihan said he had not been contacted by backbenchers over the weekend in relation to a speculated coup attempt.

"Certainly nobody has suggested to me I should make a move. To my knowledge there is no such move," he said.

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe said other senior government ministers had not indicated they want any change at the top while Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said the Taoiseach had the full support of his Cabinet.

"This country is facing serious problems and the last thing we want is political instability," he said.

Mr Ahern said the Fianna Fáil rank and file understood the last thing that was needed is upheaval in the Government or within the party.

"It just won't help our country," he added.

But the Opposition continued to heap pressure on Mr Cowen with Fine Gael's Finance Spokesman Michael Noonan blaming record interest rates for Government borrowing on the controversy.

"Political instability as much as financial instability is what is now undermining Ireland's position," he said.

Calls by Mr Noonan for a General Election were echoed by the Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore.

"Putting off the general election that the country is crying out for will simply further delay the process of national recovery," he said.

Mr Cowen's leadership has come under intense scrutiny since last Tuesday morning's radio broadcast, aired hours after a late night at his Fianna Fáil party's annual think-in.

The Taoiseach strenuously denied he was either drunk or hungover during the broadcast on Ireland's most listened to radio show, RTÉ's 'Morning Ireland'.

He later apologised for his performance and the fall-out has proved deeply embarrassing for the Government.

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