THERE will be a “bloodbath” in Fianna Fáil if rivals mount a challenge to Brian Cowen’s leadership, with those close to the Taoiseach warning they will fight back.
Fianna Fáil backbenchers still supporting their leader said there remains a “core group loyal to the Taoiseach” who are strong enough to stand up to any heave.
But one of the growing number who want to see a change in leadership said “that crowd wouldn’t see the wood from the trees” and there is no way they’d have enough support.
The embattled Taoiseach yesterday insisted his party will be “held together” by a “duty to do what is right by the country” as a growing cohort of TDs signalled they are willing to replace him if an alternative leader steps up to the mark.
They called on a cabinet minister to “go in and say the game is up, this isn’t working; go quietly and avoid any blood-bath”.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern accepted there was unease in the back benches and admitted a “row in the party”.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said: “The matter is closed now. I have an important job to get on with, the Government has an important job to get on with.”
Cowen supporters said he is unlikely to step aside easily, but if he does not, there could also be a blood-bath.
“The only way we could avoid a split is if the Taoiseach himself saw himself as a drawback and decided to step aside. But I could never see that happening and I don’t see anything other than a blood- bath if there is a challenge to the leader,” said a TD close to Mr Cowen.
“The damage could be irreversible; it could last for years. It took a long time to heal splits in the past and we are not going to go through that again.”
Supporters of Mr Cowen argue that a leadership change would inevitably bring about an immediate general election in a move seen as a “threat” to backbenchers fearful of losing their seats.
A TD in the anti-Cowen camp said: “My answer to that is that we can go to the election now and be decimated or go in a year’s time and be decimated; it’s all the same.”
Some belive a heave would not necessarily cause a general election as a new leader could step into the role and take about six months to regain support for the party before calling an election.
Many backbenchers last night admitted to talks among themselves and phone calls to “force things to happen”.
But there was a sense that an alternative leader is not yet ready to make the move, possibly waiting on the next set of opinion poll results.
“This has been building up for a long time and if it does happen, the events in Galway will be the catalyst and not the cause,” said one TD.
The Taoiseach yesterday said he had learned lessons from the controversy surrounding his Morning Ireland performance following a late-night drinking session in Galway.
He said there was “nothing unwholesome or untoward” about the night at the party’s think-in but that it was “just a get-together and a sing-along that began and the conviviality of the company”.
But he admitted: “I would be a bit more cautious in terms of that aspect of how I conduct aspects of my social life.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved