TAOISEACH Brian Cowen’s desperate attempt to show he was still in charge came in the midst of an unprecedented expression of mutiny from his back benches.
As Mr Cowen was preparing to meet his Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, to discuss the budget, the most senior party figure so far came out to support calls for a change at the top.
Tom Kitt, the former chief whip, said Mr Cowen could not expect the parliamentary party to ignore the controversy surrounding his ill-judged interview on Morning Ireland.
The former junior minister said the Taoiseach would have to face up to his critics and there were people willing to replace him.
“There’s a situation there that needs to be addressed. We’re all realists in the parliamentary party and I think that’s the best way to do it.
“We have people who are well able to fill the boots of that position of Taoiseach.
“I think it’s obvious that some people have to come forward at some stage. And I also feel it would be wrong if anybody has ambitions to be Taoiseach that they wait until after the next budget for example. We need people to show courage now and this is the time to show courage,” he said.
However one of those potential leaders, Mr Kitt, goaded to lay out his cards, Justice Minister Dermot Ahern, said there would be no heave against the party leader.
And he said he did not believe the rank and file TDs and senators would move to oust Mr Cowen.
“I’m a fairly keen observer over the years of the parliamentary party. They understand the difficulties facing the country and when two-and-a-half years ago we decided we would go on this path of taking difficult decisions, even though it would mean political unpopularity, we brought our parliamentary party with us.”
Mr Ahern said the parliamentary party “understands that the last thing we need at this moment in time is any upheaval in the Government or indeed in our party; it just won’t help our country.”
His case was strengthened from an unlikely source, Independent deputy Michael Lowry.
The Tipperary North TD effectively warned the Fianna Fáil backbenches if they tried to change their leader they would be voting themselves out of a job, because he would withdraw his support from the Government.
“I want to make it clear, in the event of Fianna Fáil putting forward an alternative candidate for Taoiseach, I will not vote for that nominee.
“It is unfair and undemocratic of the Fianna Fáil party to expect the Dáil to change Taoiseach three times in the life-span of one term of government. There should only be a change of Taoiseach after the public have the opportunity to vote in a general election,” he said.
But, as the Taoiseach and Finance Minister arrived onto the steps of Government Buildings to present a united front, another TD spoke out.
Michael Kennedy said he supported Mr Kitt’s call for the issue of Mr Cowen’s leadership and communication to be aired at next week’s parliamentary party meeting.
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