Lenihan expected to declare for leader in confidence bid

BRIAN LENIHAN is expected to back Brian Cowen in today’s confidence motion on his leadership in a move aimed at alienating the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Michael Martin.

The Finance Minister spoke to Mr Cowen a number of times on Sunday when the Taoiseach announced he would be tabling a motion of confidence in his leadership at today’s meeting of the parliamentary party.

Mr Lenihan — who is viewed as a potential successor to Cowen — will announce support for the Taoiseach just before the meeting in what is likely to be a major blow to the hopes of Micheál Martin to oust the Taoiseach.

A party source said last night that Mr Lenihan has a core group of about a dozen supporters who were awaiting his decision and whose votes could swing today’s ballot.

Speaking from Brussels where he was meeting his EU counterparts, Mr Lenihan said: “It is important that this issue be put beyond doubt. I discussed the matter with the Taoiseach and he indicated to me that he has majority support in the party.

He refused to comment on Mr Martin’s decision to vote against the Taoiseach. “I’m not going to comment on anyone’s position. We have procedures in the party and they are being followed and I very much welcome what the Taoiseach has done in giving the parliamentary party a free secret ballot on this matter,” he said.

Seven senior ministers have publicly declared their support for Mr Cowen, while two have not declared their intentions, including Justice Minister Dermot Ahern who is still in hospital recovering from a hip operation and will not vote.

Last night, long-serving minister Noel Dempsey gave his backing to the Taoiseach.

Seven of 13 Fianna Fáil junior ministers have declared their support, while two have said they will not support him.

Minister for Agriculture Brendan Smith gave a strong defence of Mr Cowen saying: “The Taoiseach is highly regarded, he’s been highly effective, he’s a very good colleague, very collegial, a very good team player.”

“We should continue with Brian Cowen as our leader, as our Taoiseach going into the Spring general election,” he added.

Pat Carey who was promoted to cabinet by Mr Cowen last March said he does not believe the vote will lead to “any recriminations” within the party and the situation is not “anywhere near as dramatic” as painted by the media.

But the Minister for Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs believes it does not matter to most people who will lead Fianna Fáil because “the vast majority of people are interested in much more mundane issues”.

He said: “All the research evidence suggests, and the pollsters will tell you, it is one of the elements people take into account when they are voting.”

Clare TD Tony Killeen, who was promoted to the position of Defence Minister, said: “[The Taoiseach] will have 100% support from me and I have no doubt at the outcome of that meeting the Taoiseach will be continuing as Fianna Fáil leader and Taoiseach.

“I was really chuffed by his decision to put the country first.

“I know there have been times over the past six months in particular, perhaps over the past two years, where putting the country first has cost Fianna Fáil, but really for the couple of months that are left and the important work that has to be done choosing to put the country first is exactly the right thing and in the long term wont damage Fianna Fáil.”

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