BRIAN COWEN has insisted that the challenge to his leadership has nothing to do with the Anglo Irish Bank controversy.
The revelations last week about his previously undisclosed contacts with former Anglo boss Sean FitzPatrick prior to the bank being bailed out unnerved Mr Cowen’s coalition partners the Greens.
But Mr Cowen said the dissatisfaction in Fianna Fáil over his leadership arose solely from the party’s low standing in the opinion polls, the latest of which put it at 14%.
Mr Cowen insisted all of Fianna Fáil’s TDs and senators recognised his “good faith” on the Anglo issue.
“My standing with the party in respect of that is not under question in any way. That’s not the issue.”
Instead, the issue was the “legitimate concern about the present standing of the party as we prepare for the election”. But Mr Cowen said he intended to lead the party into the election, and said the issue would be determined by the vote on the confidence motion in his leadership tomorrow.
“Having consulted with my party colleagues, and having reflected on the current and future challenges, I have come to the conclusion that I should continue to lead the party. I believe this is in the best interest of stability of the Government, the country and our party.”
He said he disagreed with those Fianna Fáil TDs — including Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin — who had urged him to step down as leader ahead of the election but continue as caretaker Taoiseach until the new Dáil was convened.
“Having one line of authority as a Taoiseach, and a separate line of authority in political decision-making as a leader of Fianna Fáil, is not, in my view, a good idea. It could lead to confusion and dilution of authority for the persons concerned,” Mr Cowen said.
He was speaking at a press conference at the Alexander Hotel in Dublin at 5pm yesterday, which followed three days of consultations with ministers and TDs, including a number of conversations with Mr Martin.
Mr Cowen insisted that he and Mr Martin were “excellent friends” and that the party would unite after tomorrow’s vote, regardless of the outcome.
He conceded that there were “varying views of varying degrees across the party” over his leadership, but expressed confidence that he would win the vote, despite it taking place by secret ballot.
He refused to say what consequences there would be for any ministers who expressed no confidence in him or urged others to do so. “I’m not getting into any — predicting any contentious issues in that regard whatever,” he said.
In reaching his decision to stay on as leader, Mr Cowen insisted the most important issue he considered was “what is in the best interest of the country” at this time.
“As Taoiseach, my total focus must remain on discharging my duties to the people so that we give legislative effect to the budget through the enactment of the Finance Bill, and other related bills which benefit the people,” he said.
“There is nothing more important than doing precisely that. When that work is done and an election is called, I look forward to the opportunity to engaging in what must be a balanced and national political debate about the real choices that face our country given the situation we will continue to face in the years ahead.
“I look forward to that political challenge as an exercise of democratic political accountability by this Government to the people it serves.
“I am keenly aware that in putting the country first, and given the magnitude of decisions we have taken, necessary as they are, that this has impacted on the support levels of our party.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved