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Saturday 19 August 2017

McGuinness 'wrong man' to lead charge on Taoiseach

Cowen rejects call to resign

Fiach Kelly and Fionnan Sheahan

DISSIDENT Fianna Fail TDs last night insisted there was a will to displace Brian Cowen as Taoiseach -- but said rebel John McGuinness was the wrong man to lead the charge.

And senior party sources claimed Mr McGuinness had himself sought promotion in this week's ministerial reshuffle.

The former junior minister is believed to have spoken with the Taoiseach to canvass for his elevation from the backbenches prior to Mr Cowen's St Patrick's Day visit to the US.

The Carlow-Kilkenny deputy became the first TD to publicly call on Mr Cowen to resign after accusing him of consistently putting tribalism and party before the country.

But Mr Cowen played down the call for him to resign in the continuing fallout from the Cabinet reshuffle. The Taoiseach said he "rejects and refutes" Mr McGuinness's criticisms, which he said were merely a "personal opinion".

The Taoiseach also pointedly highlighted the support he had received from his party throughout the economic crisis.

"The vast, vast majority of the Fianna Fail party are team players," he said in Brussels yesterday.

Mr Cowen said that in a party as big as Fianna Fail, there were "a lot of talented people at the disposal of a Taoiseach" and therefore not everybody could be promoted.

He said his focus was on continuing to lead the country through the serious work the country had to face.

A number of disgruntled backbenchers said they still wanted to replace Mr Cowen but claimed that Mr McGuinness, who has been a consistent critic of the Taoiseach, did not have the credibility to bring people with him.

Grumbling

However, other TDs outside of this ring said it wasn't just the usual so-called awkward squad who were grumbling about the Taoiseach this time around.

Mr McGuinness, who has previously criticised Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, also said he would confront Mr Cowen on the issue at a parliamentary party meeting next week.

"I've come to the view that Brian needs to resign his position because what is being said at parliamentary party meetings and by the Fianna Fail organisation is not being acknowledged, it's not being heard, it's not being implemented," he said. "I'm expressing my personal opinion and this is now a matter for those who have leadership ambitions, who are interested in the leadership and who have expressed that in the past. It's up to them now to consider their position also."

His move comes after a group of backbenchers sounded out colleagues on the level of discontent within the party towards Mr Cowen.

A group of five TDs is trying to assess if any senior figure is prepared to front a challenge to the Taoiseach.

Other backbenchers privately echoed the Carlow-Kilkenny TD's call for a senior party figure to stand against Mr Cowen.

TDs returned to their constituencies last night and are likely to gauge the feeling at the party's grassroots before the parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday.

If the dissidents are to succeed in tabling a party motion of no confidence in Mr Cowen, they must get at least 18 of the party's TDs to sign the motion.

Other TDs yesterday said that there was more than just a rump of disaffected backbenchers looking for a change.

"There's not just a rump -- it's across the parliamentary party," said a younger TD. "And people with leadership aspirations are not as far away from this as you think.

"But I would be surprised if people even stood up in the parliamentary party if McGuinness did. A lot wouldn't want to be associated with him -- and raising something like this when Cowen was out of the country is definite a no-no in Fianna Fail."

One of the group of rebels said: "We'll speak up and hopefully it will gain momentum. It's up to those who want to take the leadership to move but they seem to be afraid. But the Taoiseach will probably do nothing. He's deeply flawed because of his lack of leadership."

A normally loyal follower of Mr Cowen also expressed his dismay at this week's reshuffle, saying he was personally disappointed to be have been passed over for promotion.

Limerick West TD John Cregan was not moved by Mr Cowen from his current position of Deputy Chief Whip.

"I've spent the past 12 years in the Oireachtas and have done everything that's been asked of me by the party," Mr Cregan told the 'Limerick Leader'.

Mr Cregan also said it was unbalanced to award two junior ministries to the Green Party when they already had two senior ministries from only six TDs.

Another younger TD, seen as being traditionally loyal to the Taoiseach, said: "I would say that if somebody more credible than McGuinness went forward a lot of people would follow. It would be a different ball game. And there are more than five people sounding others out."

Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton said it was a "serious and grave situation" when government backbenchers did not think the Taoiseach could provide effective leadership.

Irish Independent

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