Martin hopes strong constituency backing will help topple Cowen

MICHEÁL MARTIN is seeking to use strong support from the Cork constituencies as the head of the wedge he hopes will topple Taoiseach Brian Cowen as leader of Fianna Fáil.

Just one deputy from Mr Martin’s native county, Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe, has publicly backed the Taoiseach.

Four TDs have spoken out against their party leader and the remaining three have welcomed Mr Martin’s move to force a vote, although they did not reveal whose side they were on.

The most prominent of these was Mr Martin’s neighbour in Cork South Central, Michael McGrath, who refused to comment on which senior figure he believed should lead the party.

Both deputies in Cork north central, Noel O’Flynn and junior minister Billy Kelleher, forcefully demanded that the Taoiseach step down.

Mr Kelleher released a statement in which he said he no longer felt Fianna Fáil could engage properly with the public while Mr Cowen was at the helm.

“I believe that as a party, Fianna Fáil must better communicate its achievements to date and more clearly articulate its plans for the future, including the forthcoming general election,” he said.

Ned O’Keeffe already vocally supported Mr Martin’s candidacy but his party rival in Cork East, Michael Ahern, kept his cards closer to his chest.

Mr Ahern said this was the seventh time he had witnessed an internal party heave and had never declared his intentions.

But he said he would speak at the parliamentary party.

“I believe it is a good thing that it will be finalised and not to leave it fester, that has been happening over a number of months. Now the opportunity is there to clarify the situation one way or another,” he said.

The Cork North West constituency remains divided. Enterprise Minister Batt O’Keeffe is a longtime friend and staunch supporter of Mr Cowen’s. He is understood to be key to organising the Taoiseach’s campaign.

However his colleague, Michael Moynihan, said he felt the party had to have a change of leader before the general election.

“I will be supporting Micheál Martin’s position. This is something I have reflected on for some time, that we need a new direction. Brian Cowen has done a lot of good… but I do believe that it is time to change the leadership,” he said.

The pair had been due to put their names forward for the selection convention last night but this was postponed.

The remaining Cork deputy, Christy O’Sullivan, supported the holding of the vote but would not declare his intentions.

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