Stage set for clash of rival FF factions at think-in
Party sources maintain two-day meet will be critical for Cowen
The stage is set for a dramatic showdown between the Cowen and Lenihan factions at the much-anticipated Fianna Fail parliamentary party think-in at the Ardilaun Hotel in Galway next week.
After a summer of feverish intrigue the two factions within the party will confront each other for the first time in three months.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, one senior Fianna Fail figure said: "This is going to be a critical two days for Brian Cowen. He is going to have to convince the Fianna Fail parliamentary party that he is in control of things.''
But they also added that "Lenihan is also going to have to convince the party that he has got a real handle upon the economy".
In particular the Finance Minister will "have to show us that he has once and for all put the Anglo thing to bed. Ivor [Callely] is an embarrassment, but Anglo is the cancer that is killing us. Until that's sorted we cannot move on''.
And in a less-than-ringing endorsement of the Finance Minister, a top-level FF source said: "He's had two years now to get this thing right. We've had good banks and bad banks and last week's mixem gatherum sort of a thing. The time has come for finality before Anglo kills us''.
Though Brian Lenihan has consistently denied having any ambitions to succeed Mr Cowen, the Finance Minister's protestations have been ignored by his supporters.
Over the summer the fortunes of the rival Cowen and Lenihan courts have waxed and waned but to date it is believed Mr Cowen retains the support of more than half of the FF parliamentary party.
However, speaking yesterday one veteran FF TD noted: "This lot [the FF TDs] are like sheep in a field after a thunderstorm. They're bunched together for the moment but all it might take is another clap of thunder to send them running all over the place.''
And both camps will be keeping a watchful eye upon a critical group of middle-ground Fianna Fail TDs such as Michael McGrath, Niall Collins, Thomas Byrne and former ministers such as John O'Donoghue, who have become increasingly vocal on a number of issues.
However, the best-laid plans of both camps may yet be overtaken by events. Last week Enda Kenny's declaration that he was putting Fine Gael on an election war-footing was widely dismissed. But within Leinster House TDs in all camps were becoming feverish about the possibility of an early election.
These concerns were intensified by increasingly discordant relations between the Greens and Fianna Fail. Speaking to the Sunday Independent, senior FF figures admitted the discourse between the parties increasingly resembles "the break-down between FF and Labour in 1995''.
On Friday's Late Late Show the former Fianna Fail minister Willie O'Dea issued a scathing attack upon the Greens. But whilst O'Dea reserved his ire for Dan Boyle, the Sunday Independent has learnt that whilst relations remain cordial between FF and ministers such as Ciaran Cuffe and Eamon Ryan, there is increasing concern about John Gormley.
A source close to the cabinet said of Mr Gormley: "He is no man on his own. When he's surrounded by FF he's fine but that fellow wouldn't stand over his own feet. Even when he's made a decision he's no sooner out the door than he's tweeting or he's getting Dan Boyle to tweet to the world to see what he should do.''
It is believed, however, that the Greens are also growing concerned that the government will collapse before they get the chance to collapse it.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, a top-level advisor to Enda Kenny noted "the only trump card the Greens now have is when they get out of government. They need to take some stance on behalf of the poor people in Ireland".
One senior FG strategist said: "We are now so prepared if FF were to call a snap election on Monday and start putting up their posters we'd have ours up by Monday evening''.