THE Taoiseach was last night accused of offering only “half-hearted” support to his deputy after her performance was savaged from the Fianna Fáil benches.
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore claimed the Government was “riven with division” after the Tánaiste’s ability was strongly attacked by a sacked junior minister.
Mr Gilmore said the outspoken remarks by Mary Coughlan’s former number two at the Enterprise Department, John McGuinness, exposed a Government more concerned about conspiracies and plots than rescuing the economy.
Mr Cowen denied the claims, but his support for Ms Coughlan was branded “muted” by Mr Gilmore who said the Taoiseach would be “fit to be tied” if the same criticisms of the Tánaiste had come from the opposition.
“Mr McGuinness tells us the Tánaiste is not up to the job.
“He says, she is not equipped to deal with the complex issues facing her department and neither is her department, that the Government is paralysed.
“The concern this is to the rest of us, and to the wider public, is that the Taoiseach and his leadership team are spending their time now and for the next number of months looking over their shoulders and behind them, looking for little conspiracies and for people stabbing them in the back, for more ministers and more backbenchers making this type of comment,” he told the Dáil during Leaders’ Questions.
Mr Cowen insisted Ms Coughlan had his full support and was doing a good job, but he did not deliver a rebuke against Mr McGuinness.
“I reject those criticisms of the Tánaiste. I believe she has been hardworking, as any minister concerned with employment in the present circumstances must be. She is working with Irish entrepreneurs and employers trying to get more business for this country.
“She is working well and those who work with her and have seen her representing the country in that capacity have had nothing but praise for her efforts,” he said.
The Taoiseach added his support was not muted, but “measured, calm and proportionate”.
Mr McGuinness, who was sacked as commerce minister in the reshuffle and reduction of junior Government posts last week, has launched a scathing vocal attack on Ms Coughlan’s ability.
He says he told the Tánaiste she was not up to the job while he was still a minister and believes she has turned a deaf ear to the needs of recession-battered Irish companies.
Mr McGuinness also expressed doubts about the Government’s competence, stating that it is “paralysed” and needs greater direction.
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