Taoiseach on cusp of defeating rebellion

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen is on the cusp of defeating the Fianna Fáil rebellion after backbenchers lined up to show loyalty to their leader.

Thirty TDs, including Mr Cowen himself, publicly indicated they would vote confidence in the Taoiseach to remain as leader of the party.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is expected to join that number this morning after his colleague Noel Dempsey stumped for Mr Cowen last night.

And at least three other TDs are seen as firm backers of the Taoiseach despite their failure to reveal their intentions — these are Eamon Scanlon, Michael Woods and Micheal Kitt.

This would leave Mr Cowen needing just two votes from 26 so-far silent deputies to win the support of the majority of TDs in the Fianna Fáil party.

The swell of support for Mr Cowen has left the chief mutineer, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin, relying on deputies elected from his native Cork, previously outed rebels and the possibility that the secrecy of the ballot will encourage people to change their mind.

Yesterday, he earned the high-profile support of junior minister Billy Kelleher and former cabinet member Willie O’Dea.

“The feedback I am getting... is that with Brian Cowen leading us into the election campaign, we risk an unacceptably high risk or electoral annihilation,” Mr O’Dea said.

Cork TDs Noel O’Flynn, Michael Moynihan and Ned O’Keeffe will vote no confidence in the Taoiseach.

Mr Martin’s constituency colleague Micheal McGrath has not declared his intentions.

With just 11 TDs openly expressing no confidence in Mr Cowen a number of deputies said they fully expected the motion of confidence to pass.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern will not be vote because he is in hospital getting a hip replacement. However, another ill TD, Noel Tracey, will make it to the meeting at 5.30pm.

This will bring the constituency of voters to 70. Party chairman John Browne, general secretary Sean Dorgan and Government Chief Whip John Curran are meeting this morning to work out the rules for the vote and what should be done in the event of a tie at 35 votes.

Mr Cowen’s supporters believe this will not be necessary as he will win comfortably.

Predictably the Taoiseach has enjoyed solid support in the midlands where his constituency colleagues, John Moloney and Seán Fleming were bolstered by neighbours in Kildare and Tipperary.

Even those who criticised Mr Cowen before Christmas, and mused about the prospect of change, said it was either too late or unnecessary to change the leadership.

Brendan Kenneally from Waterford said the prospect of having a leader of Fianna Fáil who was different to the head of Government was not acceptable.

“I have known for some little while what I would do in such a scenario. Because I think we are after getting into a situation now where it is too late to be changing our leader before a General Election. I think if we had a different leader to a Taoiseach that would be very messy,” he said

Bobby Aylward, from the neighbouring constituency of Carlow Kilkenny, spoke out against Mr Cowen in the aftermath of the IMF rescue but admitted he would never support a move to overthrow the Taoiseach.

“Though I’m getting mixed reaction at local level at this stage I believe loyalty is a virtue,” he said.

His constituency colleague John McGuinness confirmed that, along with other previously outspoken critics of Mr Cowen, he will campaign to defeat the Taoiseach’s motion.

In Clare, Timmy Dooley who had been expected to vote against the Taoiseach told Clare FM he did not want to see a change.

“I meet many people who tell me we should get rid of Brian Cowen… I meet many people who say we need to hold on to Brian Cowen and it is difficult to see what is in the best interests of the country.

Mr Martin’s camp will pin their hopes on the undeclared.

A third of those who have remained silent will not be contesting the general election and will be free of potential reprisal if they oppose the Taoiseach.

In Mayo Beverly Flynn, who is believed to be in Mr Martin’s camp, said she would not comment publicly.

However, there was surprise that potential loyalists to Mr Cowen refused to express outright support.

Michael Fitzpatrick in Kildare North and Peter Power in Limerick East both said they would be guided by the views of their local activists.

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