Critics not brave enough to act

THE mob got as far as the door, but were afraid to call for a head.

The consensus in Fianna Fáil before yesterday’s parliamentary party meeting was that Taoiseach Brian Cowen had been gently persuaded to step down before the election. However, once the party gathered together, none of the TDs, senators or, most critically, ministers who accepted Mr Cowen had to go was brave enough to act.

Mr Cowen had prepared himself for the fight, but nobody was willing to step out of the crowd and take him on.

The most recent and bizarre of heaves had come from nowhere went nowhere.

Late on Wednesday night the Dáil bar became excited with news among Fianna Fáil deputies that senior ministers had at last made their move and the Taoiseach was considering their position.

A meeting had supposedly taken place among dissidents in Buswells hotel.

By midnight backbenchers not in the bar were texted or called about what was going and this prompted another volley of calls to verify the story. Something was happening, but nobody knew what.

The excitement which the news sparked signalled the extent to which there appetite for change after further revelations in the Dáil that Mr Cowen had dined with another director of Anglo Irish Bank.

It appears the reaction of some previously moderate TDs to the prospect encouraged those who had been willing on the heave throughout the latter half of last year.

However, when the sun rose nobody had stood up to take the fight on.

Cabinet members did speak to him. Other ministers like Micheál Martin, pictured left, had talked about the future of party earlier in the week. By lunchtime rumours around Leinster House had built to a sense of certainty that this time was different and the shadow puppetry of previous scuffles was over. There was the impression that one of the realistic leadership rivals had taken charge of the revolt. But nobody knew who.

It was generally accepted among Mr Cowen’s supporters and challengers that the Taoiseach was hobbling and perhaps mortally wounded.

Similar to Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, who was expected to roll over without a fight last summer, Mr Cowen’s opponents were expecting him to resign. But the coup was without a leader or a mouthpiece. People were watching one another to see who would flinch first or speak first.

Like Mr Kenny, Mr Cowen decided to go first. Rather than responding to criticism by his colleagues, he spoke first and addressed the meeting with a message of come and get me.

Ned O’Keeffe, who had switched from supporting Mr Cowen to calling for his head since last weekend, would not comment after the meeting. Noel O’Flynn, who tried to oust Mr Cowen before Christmas, did not openly criticise him again.

And none of the senior ministers who would have been expected to take him on spoke up, although all were present.

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