‘No vacancy for FF leader at present’

BRIAN LENIHAN has not ruled out seeking the Fianna Fáil leadership at some future point but insists there is “no vacancy at present”.

The Finance Minister said yesterday his cancer had stabilised but rejected suggestions this would now prompt him to launch a heave against Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

Mr Lenihan also rejected a media report suggesting he had canvassed Fianna Fáil backbenchers over the summer to gauge their support for a heave.

He also said the Taoiseach was “bearing up well” despite “serial personal abuse” in media commentary.

“It really is extraordinary. And despite that, what I find is he’s bearing up well, working hard and doing his best, and certainly giving me support right up to 100%,” Mr Lenihan told RTÉ Radio.

On the subject of a leadership challenge, Mr Lenihan insisted: “I’m not a party to any such manoeuvre.”

Asked if he thought his illness ruled him out as a potential leader, he stressed the issue did not arise as Mr Cowen was in charge. But he conceded that every politician had ambitions to be party leader.

“Look, there isn’t a vacancy at present, so we’re not at the stage where you can start discussing who would or would not be leader of a party.

“Anyone – and I think some former taoisigh have made the point – everyone in every political party wants to be party leader at some stage. But there’s no vacancy at present.”

Mr Lenihan said he was aware of the suggestions that he had been canvassing TDs. “I certainly read media reports that I was engaged in a canvass over the summer. I can assure you that was not the case,” he said.

“I had a very pleasant break in Ireland, although I was back at my desk at the 23rd of August because of the various financial problems... But during that break I had an opportunity of climbing a number of Irish mountains and having a very pleasant vacation, and I didn’t meet any TDs around them.”

He conceded, however, that party members had been voicing concern “about the direction of the party” and the fact that it had “lost a lot of support,” but said it was important that Fianna Fáil hold its nerve.

He said his cancer had stabilised following “intensive” rounds of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

“I completed them at the end of June, and various tests were conducted in relation to the effect of the treatment. And it has stabilised the cancer for the present. Of course, when you have a cancer you are always at risk, but it has stabilised the cancer for the present. My energy levels, I have to say, are much better, so I’m in a good position to get on with the important decisions that have to be taken in this country in the next few months.”

But he acknowledged that the cancer hadn’t “gone away”.

“It’s there, and it is a danger, but it’s not an immediate or clear or present danger to me.”


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