Rivals won't give clear run to Lenihan takeover
But no one wants to lead Cowen heave
FIANNA FAIL is facing into a divisive leadership battle -- if Taoiseach Brian Cowen is persuaded to resign.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan won't be given a clear run for the leadership of the party by his rivals, the Irish Independent understands.
But none of the party heavy-weights being mooted as replacements for the Taoiseach are willing to head up a heave against Mr Cowen.
The Finance Minister is believed to be willing to become Taoiseach, despite his cancer treatment.
And his junior minister brother Conor said yesterday that Fianna Fail was "very damaged" by the controversy surrounding Mr Cowen's radio performance on 'Morning Ireland' last week.
But Dermot Ahern, Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin are also expected to throw their hats into the ring, cabinet sources said last night.
Mr Ahern, in particular, is understood to still be annoyed at the way the leadership changeover two years ago was handled by Mr Cowen and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The Justice Minister has never hidden his leadership ambitions.
Mr Martin would also be expected to declare, even if he knew he might not get it on this occasion, and Ms Hanafin would also be obliged to express an interest in the job to signal intent for the future.
The prospects of Mr Lenihan being given a clear run were dismissed within the party.
Fianna Fail figures predicted there would be four nominations -- even if not all the contenders went on to an eventual vote.
"Dermot Ahern would put the kibosh on that. He resents the way it was done last time. Steve Silvermint (a reference to Mr Martin's clean image) will be in there too; and then Mary Hanafin would have to go, so there'll be three or four in the ring," a minister said.
However, none of these senior figures want to lead the heave against Mr Cowen.
Mr Cowen's best friend around the cabinet table, Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe, warned any leadership contenders that they would face the same difficulties as the Taoiseach.
Despite genuine efforts by ministers to end the affair, there is a growing sense in the Government that the media coverage of Mr Cowen's leadership crisis is not going to die off.
"Looking at the TV coverage on Friday, he looked like he was about to cry. I don't see anybody stepping up. I don't think anyone wants a heave. Ye're the biggest shower of b******* of them all.
"Ye're keeping it going so it won't go away," a minister said talking about the media coverage of the story.
"He (Mr Cowen) has got to put an end to it. The most serious thing facing the country is the economic issues," another coalition source said.
The controversy is widely anticipated to continue until opinion polls are published next weekend.
Mr O'Keeffe also said he did not feel a different Fianna Fail leader would win more seats than Mr Cowen at the next General Election.
"Any Taoiseach who is in power at this point in time is going to be in trouble with the public," he said.
The minister repeatedly stressed that Mr Cowen would not repeat the late-night drinking session and poor interview. But he also admitted the Taoiseach had "added to that stereotype and he would be first to acknowledge that".
Mr O'Keeffe noted no TD had "put their head above the parapet" to criticise Mr Cowen and that even during the best days of Bertie Ahern's term in charge there were about 20 TDs who didn't support him.
Mr Lenihan played down suggestions he was putting himself forward to replace Mr Cowen, saying the leadership issue did not arise.
But a number of sources close to the Finance Minister said Mr Lenihan's battle against cancer would not prevent him from putting his name forward.
"The matter may be taken out of his hands in that others might do it. I'd say that if there was a vacancy, of course his health would be an issue, but he would be willing health wise. But there isn't a vacancy," a senior party source said.
And another source said reports of Mr Lenihan being in contact with party TDs to generate a heave against Mr Cowen were "a heap of shite".
"His health doesn't rule him out to hold any office. That is not the case.
"He is well enough to be Minister for Finance, so then he is well enough to do anything.
"But the issue doesn't arise and there isn't any question of him fomenting anything," a government source said.
Mr Lenihan is said to be pre-occupied with a crucial week for the country on the bond markets, where a government agency will auction more than €1bn of debt tomorrow.
Reflecting the ongoing anger within the party, Conor Lenihan said: "We know that there's a serious challenge to our party and to the authority and respect with which people hold the office of Taoiseach. I expect both the Taoiseach and his colleagues to address that matter in the weeks ahead."
Environment Minister and Green Party leader John Gormley said he believed there was no vacancy for a new Fianna Fail leader and the Government had to move on.
- Paddy Power is offering odds of 7/4 for both Brian Lenihan and Micheal Martin to win any potential Fianna Fail leadership race, while Dermot Ahern is at 9/4 and Mary Hanafin is on 14/1.