Cowen admits failing to connect with the voters
FF hold 'kiss-and-make-up' meeting
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen admitted last night he had to work harder on getting his message across to the public.
Mr Cowen made the pledge at a meeting of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party. Also at the meeting, as expected, rebel TD John McGuinness called for the Taoiseach's resignation.
Nobody backed Mr McGuinness' call but numerous speakers said Mr Cowen had to do better at getting the Government's message across to the public.
"I said what I said outside last week," Mr McGuinness said. "It was only fair to him that I did. Obviously he didn't agree with it, but he took on board what I said about how the Government was working and where it should be going."
One of the rebels who was sounding-out the level of discontent within the party last week, described yesterday's meeting as a "kiss and make up affair".
There were widespread mutterings among Fianna Fail TDs in the wake of Mr Cowen's conservative reshuffle.
Otherwise loyal TDs such as Bobby Aylward and MJ Nolan publicly criticised Mr Cowen's leadership last week and repeated their criticisms yesterday.
Mr Cowen was said to have given a sort of state-of-the-nation address to the parliamentary party and told the assembled TDs and senators he would take their criticism on board and come back to them on it.
He opened the meeting with a lengthy speech, during which he acknowledged his communications shortcomings, before around 25 speakers also brought up a similar point.
Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin also raised a similar point in a radio interview last weekend.
Mr Cowen spent part of last weekend calling backbenchers in Fianna Fail to see if he could still count on their support and canvassing their opinions about problems within the party.
One of the TDs who spoke to Mr Cowen by phone said he had told the Taoiseach his communications problem was one of the main issues being brought up on the backbenches.
"He told us he didn't mind criticism," one TD said after yesterday's meeting.
"But he said he would prefer if we said it to his face inside in the parliamentary party where it should be raised, and not in the newspapers," the TD added.
Another long-serving TD disgruntled with Mr Cowen's leadership said: "He talked about how strong leadership was needed to get us through this."
Another TD unhappy with Mr Cowen's leadership said Tuesday's banking announcements had concentrated minds among rank-and-file TDs.
The Taoiseach's spirited performance in the Dail yesterday morning, when he emotionally responded to charges of "economic treason" from Labour leader Eamon Gilmore, also rallied backbenchers behind him.
TD Mattie McGrath, who last week said the Taoiseach should resign but later rowed back on the call, denied "half-apologising" to Mr Cowen.