Junior health minister John Moloney moved to shore-up the Taoiseach’s weakening position as a veteran FF deputy called on Brian Cowen to quit and the party was hit by another senior figure saying they would not contest the election.
Cork East TD Ned O’Keeffe re-ignited the leadership issue by demanding the beleaguered Taoiseach stand down for the sake of the party and the country.
Mr Moloney indicated that Mr O’Keefe was putting his own career first.
“Maybe some TDs might feel it might be safer for their own re-election to slightly distance themselves from the Taoiseach and from the party,” he told RTÉ.
However, Mr Moloney admitted that after Mary Wallace brought the number of FF deputies standing down at the looming election to 12, any more such declarations would be “unnerving”.
“I would hope that we don’t see many more people standing down because quite clearly that would have an unnerving effect, maybe, on a very strong Fianna Fáil organisation,” he said.
Highlighting the rapidly unravelling political situation, Mr Moloney also opened fire on the Greens for creating a “huge volcano” over the revelations of Mr Cowen’s two previously undisclosed contacts with disgraced former Anglo chief Seán FitzPatrick in the run-up to the €34bn taxpayer bail-out of the bank in September 2008.
Mr Moloney said the Greens acted as if the party’s in government “don’t talk to each other”.
Fianna Fáil is dependent on the Greens to keep it in office until its preferred general election date of late March. FF has been rattled by two opinion polls putting its support in the low teens.
Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and Social Protection Minister Éamon Ó Cuív both rallied to the Taoiseach’s defence, insisting the golfing trip with FitzPatrick was nothing out of the ordinary.
Mr Ó Cuív openly ridiculed Green president Dan Boyle who had expressed the party’s “concern” at the FitzPatrick affair: “I think Dan Boyle tends to be very concerned about everything.”
Mr O’Keefe accused the Taoiseach of weak leadership: “The country is experiencing the worst economic crisis of our lifetime but we do not have the strong leadership that is required to address the many major problems.”
Meanwhile, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore came under pressure from one of the country’s largest unions, Unite, to reject a post-election pact with Fine Gael and form a left-wing administration with Sinn Féin and socialist independents instead.
Unite, which is affiliated to the Labour Party, called on its 60,000 members to vote for and transfer to leftist parties in the forthcoming general election.