Cowen to make announcement this evening

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan has said that Taoiseach Brian Cowen will make an announcement on his future as leader of Fianna Fáil later this evening.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is to make a statement on his future as Fianna Fail leader later today, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan has confirmed.

The embattled politician has been consulting with colleagues in his party over the last two days to assess if he has enough backing to remain at the helm.

Ms Coughlan said that exercise was completed last night and he will make his decision known, but she would not be drawn on what he would do.

“I believe that he has to the forefront of his mind this country, and naturally his party, and that the decision that he will be making will be in the best interests of this country,” she told RTÉ Radio.

Earlier, junior minister Sean Haughey, who spoke to Mr Cowen last Thursday, said he did not believe the Taoiseach was plotting to remain in office.

“I found him in a very philosophical humour, very genuinely open to discussion and debate,” he said.

“I didn’t get the impression of a man who was sitting there plotting to remain in power.”

Mr Haughey said he told Mr Cowen he was not communicating with the electorate.

The Minister said he got the impression Mr Cowen wanted to do what was best for the country and party.

“If he thought it was in the interests of the party, I think he would consider stepping down,” he said.

Mr Cowen offered disgruntled members of his parliamentary party the opportunity for one-to-one talks at a crunch meeting earlier this week.

The latest to openly question Mr Cowen’s position was backbencher Noel O’Flynn, who called for Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin to take over.

“I think it is time for Brian Cowen to consider his position and to resign as leader of Fianna Fáil, and I think what should happen then is that the parliamentary party should come in behind the candidature of Micheál Martin,” the Cork North Central TD said after speaking with Mr Cowen.

Mr Martin has thus far backed the Taoiseach and Mr O’Flynn told RTÉ he had not been in contact with the minister on the issue.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin are also likely contenders if Mr Cowen does step down.

Eamon O Cuiv, Minister for Social Protection, may also throw his hat into the ring.

Concerns over the Taoiseach’s leadership came to a head this week after he was publicly grilled in the Dail on Wednesday on his contacts with disgraced Anglo Irish Bank boss Sean FitzPatrick.

Under pressure, he revealed the names of two other business chiefs who joined him and Mr FitzPatrick for a post-golf match dinner in Druid’s Glen – Gary McGann, chief executive of Smurfit Kappa, who was a director of Anglo at the time, and Alan Gray, an economist appointed to the Central Bank board by Mr Cowen.

But a no-confidence vote in the Government, tabled by the Labour Party, was temporarily blocked on Friday.

Government Chief Whip John Curran refused to free up Dáil time, forcing the party to wait for more than a week to test the Taoiseach’s support.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore had branded the Government "dysfunctional" and said it was reneging on commitments to hold an election in the early part of the year.

But the Opposition itself is divided over the no-confidence motion, with Fine Gael claiming it could serve to unite the Government.

Meanwhile, Mr Cowen earned some respite from the Anglo controversy on Friday when former chief of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) Michael Somers dismissed reported claims by ex-Anglo chief David Drumm that the Taoiseach pushed for a cash injection in the bank.

Mr Somers, who oversaw banking arrangements for state borrowing, insisted he could not recall being ordered by Mr Cowen to deposit funds with Anglo.

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