Cowen appeals for troops’ support

BRIAN COWEN insisted he trusts his Cabinet colleagues and appealed for support from his backbenchers, who warned he must prove his leadership for once and for all.

The Taoiseach said he intends to see out his full term, after he came under criticism from a second Cabinet colleague, who said he had “insulted” the people of the country by his poor radio performance on Tuesday morning.

As both Fine Gael and Labour said they are preparing for a general election any day, Mr Cowen fought back saying: “I do not expect a general election any day soon.”

As he met his EU colleagues in Brussels, Mr Cowen was forced to declare yesterday’s rise in the cost of state borrowing for Ireland had nothing to do with controversy surrounding claims he was hungover during a radio interview.

And there was further humiliation for Mr Cowen when golfer Philip Walton said he wrote to the Taoiseach over his skit of the Ryder Cup winner at the now infamous drinking session in Galway. The Government had not received the letter last night, but the Taoiseach said he had been impersonating his heroes.

Ministers close to the Taoiseach rallied around him and insisted his apology on Wednesday night should mark the end of the saga.

“The Taoiseach has the full confidence of the Cabinet and also of the parliamentary party,” said Tánaiste and Education Minister Mary Coughlan before admitting she has still not listened to the radio interview at the centre of the controversy.

Asked for her assessment of the interview three days ago, which has made international headlines, Ms Coughlan said: “I didn’t hear it actually, so all I know is there was a furore about it because he had a cold and he sounded inarticulate.”

Minister for Tourism, Sports and Culture Mary Hanafin said the Taoiseach did the right thing when he apologised on prime time television on Wednesday. But, in a veiled criticism, she said: “Certainly, the impression we got over the two days was people felt insulted by it and I know he, nor any of us, would like to insult any member of the Irish public.”

Her comments followed what was seen as a coded warning from Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin, who had described the episode as “damaging”.

But speaking from an EU meeting in Brussels, Mr Cowen said: “I trust and have confidence in the people I work with.”

A number of backbenchers yesterday admitted they had discussions with each other over their “serious concerns”.

They said there will be no “rash” response from them, but the Taoiseach will have to “immediately” improve his performances.

Mr Cowen appealed to his troops, saying backbenchers “need to understand the challenges but also the strengths of the economy”.


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