Lenihan's star falls as talk of FF heave recedes
BRIAN Lenihan still refused to rule out challenging Brian Cowen yesterday -- but his "star is dropping like a meteorite", according to a source close to the Taoiseach.
Supporters of Mr Lenihan were also having second thoughts about a heave after a day and night of media interviews where Mr Cowen reasserted his authority over the party.
Fianna Fail TDs in Dublin, where more than half are likely to lose their seats in an election, now hope old friends will persuade Mr Cowen to stand down over Christmas.
"A small group of old friends would call on him over the holidays and tell him that a majority of the parliamentary party believe we can do better in the election under a new leader," said one Dublin TD last night.
But sources close to Mr Cowen laughed off that suggestion and said the Taoiseach would be leading Fianna Fail into the next election.
"Micheal Martin has moved to centre stage while Brian Lenihan's star is dropping like a meteorite," said the source.
Other Fianna Fail backbenchers said Fine Gael's finance spokesman Michael Noonan had outperformed Mr Lenihan on the Budget debate on RTE's 'Prime Time'.
But another key Fianna Fail backbencher who is opposed to Mr Cowen was frustrated by Mr Lenihan: "He will not rule out challenging Brian Cowen but neither will he do anything about it.
"Over the past six months Mr Lenihan invited TDs to his office in the Department of Finance and they all left with the impression that he was ready to move for the leadership but now he refuses to say anything."
His candidacy for the party leadership was not mentioned when Mr Lenihan briefed Fianna Fail backbenchers about the Budget yesterday.
"It was the elephant in the room but no one brought it up," said a backbench TD.
When he was asked about a possible leadership challenge yesterday, Mr Lenihan said: "I'm in good health."
Most members of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party believe that the Taoiseach has an agreement to support Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin as his successor.
Mr Martin, who has made his ambitions to be leader public, has said Mr Cowen should lead Fianna Fail into the next election.
Last night friends of Social Protection Minister Eamon O Cuiv, a grandson of Fianna Fail founder Eamon de Valera, said he would also be a candidate in any leadership election.
Questions about the leadership are unlikely to be raised at a meeting of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party today in Leinster House.