Lenihan 'prepared' for heave against Taoiseach
A LEADERSHIP challenge against Taoiseach Brian Cowen by his Finance Minister was the subplot to the tax-and-cut Budget drama in the Dail yesterday.
Fianna Fail rebels want Brian Lenihan to match his words with action and move against Mr Cowen after the party's popularity slumped lower than Sinn Fein's in the latest opinion poll.
According to a senior party source, Mr Lenihan has assured a number of backbenchers he is prepared to move against Mr Cowen before the General Election.
"Brian told some of our people that he favoured making a move over the Christmas holiday," the source said.
A source said: "There is a party meeting called for Thursday morning and I expect a lot of people will be letting their views be known about the party leadership."
When asked about the 18 signatures required to challenge an incumbent leader under party rules, the source added: "It could happen on Friday."
Supporters of Mr Lenihan appeared to be unnerved by the appearance of Foreign Minister Micheal Martin on RTE's 'The Frontline' programme on Monday night.
Mr Martin gave a virtuoso performance in communications skills, but made it clear he wanted Brian Cowen to lead Fianna Fail into the upcoming General Election.
Earlier on Monday, Mr Martin told journalists in Cork he was interested in the leadership when it becomes available.
But he again insisted Mr Cowen would lead Fianna Fail into the next election.
Fianna Fail backbenchers also believe the Taoiseach would prefer Mr Martin to succeed him as leader of Fianna Fail.
Some of them are convinced there is a deal where the Taoiseach, and therefore his supporters in the parliamentary party, would back Mr Martin. There has been a falling out between the Taoiseach and the Finance Minister -- and their departments are also at odds over economic policy.
Mr Martin directed his message to Fianna Fail members and supporters when he appeared with Pat Kenny on Monday night.
"I have been saying consistently when I am asked the question if ever in the future there is a (leadership) vacancy would you be interested and I said I would. But there is no vacancy." Mr Martin said he believed Mr Cowen would lead Fianna Fail into the next general election.
Many in Fianna Fail thought family pressures following the tragic death of his daughter in October might rule out Mr Martin as a contender for the leadership. But his recent reassuring media performances dispelled any doubts that he intends to seek to lead Fianna Fail.
If Mr Lenihan were to challenge Mr Cowen before January, he would have to first resign as Finance Minister -- and before the Budget was passed through the Oireachtas.
Mr Cowen has said repeatedly that he intends to lead Fianna Fail into the next election