No heave as Fianna Fáil faithful circle wagons

THERE were “no grumblings in Galway” over Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s leadership after the controversy resulting from his Morning Ireland radio interview vexed backbenchers but failed to re-ignite desire for a heave against him.

Mr Cowen got roaring approval from his party troops when he claimed in a press conference he was the victim of a “distasteful” personal campaign against him by Fine Gael, with Simon Coveney claiming he was between drunk and hungover during the radio interview.

But Jerry Beades, of the party’s national executive, said Mr Cowen’s performance was disappointing: “These are the kind of things that have been spoken about and the outrage from the public speaks for itself.”

He said, however, that there is no one to replace Mr Cowen, except Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin, “and that’s the problem for the party”.

He added: “The people around him need to take stock, if they want to see out the next 18 months they need to start showing leadership.”

Many Fianna Fáil politicians were quietly stunned with yesterday’s events, which saw headlines travel across the world and culminated in Mr Cowen denying he had a drink problem.

A number of Government ministers were first out to defend him, with Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin saying he was merely hoarse.

“From a content perspective, I had no difficulty with the interview at all,” said Mr Martin.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern put the poor interview performance down to problems the Taoiseach has with nasal congestion.

“I think that is well known and there are times when that does affect him,” said Mr Ahern.

Mr Cowen said the controversy was a result of a “pathetic and pitiful attack” by Fine Gael and he would be putting it behind him.

“We have a job to do. We are not in this country anymore to do what passes for politics as usual. This country has serious challenges to face,” he said.

The Taoiseach’s radio performance annoyed some of his backbenchers, who already had concerns about his communications skills.

Others, however, directed their anger at the media and Fine Gael for blowing the issue out of proportion, helping to galvanise support behind their leader.

“Obviously, we would rather it didn’t happen and would prefer if he was a better communicator,” said one TD. “But there were no grumblings in Galway in that sense.”

Some TDs feel, because an election could be close, it is not wise to cause internal party strife, which could further damage Fianna Fáil’s popularity.

“The transfer market is closed. The team we have is the team we have to go with at this stage and we have to do the best we can with it,” said one backbencher.


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