Mr Cowen continued to insist it was a matter for individuals and said legally, there was nothing he could do to remove the pensions.
But his reluctance to intervene was in sharp contrast with Fine Gael and Labour, which both dealt swiftly with the issue in their own ranks and isolated Fianna Fáil by doing so.
The spotlight switched to TDs yesterday after Máire Geoghegan-Quinn revealed on Monday night that she would forego her €108,000 pension until the end of her term as EU Commissioner, which carries a €243,000 annual salary.
Her decision put immediate pressure on sitting TDs, senators and MEPs in receipt of ministerial pensions to follow suit. By lunchtime yesterday, all the remaining Fine Gael and Labour politicians in receipt of ministerial pensions had announced they would relinquish them until their retirement.
In addition, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny published legislation to remove ministerial pensions from Oireachtas members immediately, and called on the Taoiseach to support it.
But Mr Cowen said the Government had already cut ministerial pensions by 25% last year and said it could not go any further because the individuals involved had property rights which could not be abolished.
But Mr Kenny claimed the Taoiseach had “abdicated all responsibility” on the issue by hiding behind “threadbare legal arguments” when he could simply have asked his Fianna Fáil colleagues to give up their pensions.
A Government spokesman admitted that, to the best of his knowledge, Mr Cowen had not requested any of his colleagues to do so.
The pressure on Bertie Ahern was immense as he held the largest pension of any of the former ministers still serving in the Dáil.
The former Taoiseach was joined by Fianna Fáil TDs Rory O’Hanlon, Frank Fahey and Ned O’Keeffe in foregoing their pensions.
But at the time of writing last night, that left seven sitting Fianna Fáil TDs, senators and MEPs still to relinquish their pensions.
They were Michael Woods TD (who previously relinquished half his pension but received €33,343 last year), Noel Treacy TD (€24,007), Jim McDaid TD (€22,487), Senator Terry Leyden (€21,761), Senator Ivor Callely (€6,637), Pat the Cope Gallagher MEP (€23,634) and Liam Aylward MEP (€12,161).