Contenders lie low as Cowen does the talking
THERE was a sense of deja vu yesterday when Fianna Fail grandee Martin Mansergh declared his "full support" for Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Mansergh had almost shouted himself hoarse defending former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern's acceptance of "digout" payments three years ago -- and now he was doing the same thing for Cowen.
But even Mansergh was clever enough to cover his bets by saying that this was his approach as long as Cowen decided to stay on "recognising that in each case there may come a point when, in his judgment, that is no longer feasible".
It was that sort of day for Fianna Fail yesterday, with most TDs stuck in a guessing game about whether Cowen's day-long series of consultation meetings in Government Buildings would prompt his resignation -- or a fightback.
And they were getting precious little direction from the main three leadership contenders, with Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan tight-lipped and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin masterfully sidestepping questions about her intentions.
It was as if they had all been thumbing through their copies of Machiavelli's 'The Prince', which warns that the person who leads the revolt against the leader rarely gains the ultimate prize. There was no sign of any caution on the part of Junior Minister Conor Lenihan at the Young Scientist Exhibition in the RDS as he claimed that all three candidates (including his brother) were "equally qualified", and urged them to "show leadership".
Maybe Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv heard him more than 200km away, while launching electric cars on the Aran Islands. He signalled that he would be interested in the Fianna Fail leadership if there was a vacancy. That raised the colourful prospect of the grandson of Eamon de Valera continuing the family dynasty at the head of Fianna Fail.
But the current "Chief" was continuing his meetings and phone calls yesterday with members of a deeply divided party. One Cabinet minister said he believed that Cowen was more likely to stay on, given that key allies such as Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe and Tanaiste Mary Coughlan were coming out in his favour.
But another backbencher said he believed the "game was up" for Cowen -- although most people in the party would prefer if he would go himself.
"Nobody wants to see blood on the floor. But you couldn't run an election campaign now that he has managed to link Anglo Irish Bank and Sean FitzPatrick with Fianna Fail," he said.
Machiavelli, who was driven from his political post when the 15th century regime in Florence in Italy collapsed, wrote that "never was anything great achieved without danger".
But amid grumblings from the opposition about "faction fighting" in Fianna Fail, there was still no public sign of a contender risking a direct challenge to Cowen's leadership yesterday.