TENSIONS within the Labour Party leadership heightened last night following Social Protection Minister Joan Burton's latest failure to offer strong backing to Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore.
Some Labour figures are predicting Mr Gilmore's demise after his deputy leader repeatedly refused to say whether she wanted him to lead the party into the local and European elections.
Ms Burton's stance came in the wake of a Labour Party senator calling for Mr Gilmore's resignation before next summer's elections.
In an extraordinary interview, Ms Burton was given three opportunities to give her full backing to Mr Gilmore.
However, the deputy leader failed to do so on each occasion, sparking fresh speculation she could launch a heave against Mr Gilmore in the coming months.
Asked whether she would like the Tanaiste to lead the party into the elections, Ms Burton would only say she "expects" him to do so.
Last night, a senior Labour figure close to Mr Gilmore expressed his shock at Ms Burton's comments. The party source said it was "pretty clear" the Dublin West TD did not have full confidence in Mr Gilmore.
"We're in shock to be honest and Eamon now knows he needs to be prepared for an ambush," the source said.
Some party TDs say they are "desperate" for Ms Burton to publicly declare she has no intention of challenging for the leadership.
"It's a f***ing circus between them. I wish they were both put in a room and told to cop on and sort out their differences for the sake of the party's future," a TD told the Irish Independent.