TAOISEACH Brian Cowen was increasingly isolated last night after only one senior Fianna Fail figure came to his defence following a wounding attack on him by his predecessor, Bertie Ahern.
here was a distinct and noticeable lack of Fianna Fail deputies willing to condemn Mr Ahern's onslaught, which broke the convention that former Taoisigh should not publicly criticise their successors.
Mr Ahern, whose own reputation has taken a nose-dive over the economic collapse, made his remarks yesterday in a British tabloid newspaper, for which he is a paid sports columnist.
In a largely self-serving interview, he attacked Mr Cowen over his failure to communicate with the public and criticised the Government's handling of the EU/IMF bailout.
There was no response from Mr Cowen, while the only senior figure to stand up for him publicly was Defence Minister Tony Killeen, who described the comments as a "little unfair".
Mr Ahern said Mr Cowen had "stopped the pattern" he (Mr Ahern) had established of making regular media appearances to communicate with the public and decided to do "only rare ones" instead.
"If you ask me, my view is you're better (off) doing it my way, but he opted not to do that. We live in a 24/7 Ireland and while I don't think the Taoiseach has to be out every hour, he should be out regularly," Mr Ahern said.
In his interview with the 'News of the World', Mr Ahern said Mr Cowen should be communicating the information in his possession.
"These aren't secrets, I don't consider them state secrets," he said.
Mr Ahern also appeared to concede that he, himself, has little chance of becoming President.
Two Fianna Fail TDs refused to comment publicly on Mr Ahern's criticism of Mr Cowen's communication style last night. One said it simply reflected what the media had been saying about this for years.
The other TD said Mr Ahern was "out of order", but said he wanted to "put the story to bed" by saying nothing rather than to fuel the fire by making further comments about it.
In the interview, Mr Ahern also criticised the Government's handling of the IMF/EU bailout.
He said it could have made a difference if the Government had told the markets earlier in the year that there would be a €6bn adjustment in the Budget instead of giving the €3bn figure.
"If we had said to the markets in May or June that these were the things we were going to do, it could have made a difference.
"That might have taken the wolves from the door -- or if the wolves came back to the door, then we might have got a better deal," Mr Ahern said.
Fianna Fail Longford-Westmeath TD Peter Kelly said that Mr Cowen had not managed to show how hard working he had been because of a failure in communications.
"I'd say the people who work closely with the Taoiseach would know of his commitment and dedication and hard work and how serious he took the job.
"But that message didn't come across to the general public until recently," Mr Kelly said.
Fianna Fail Galway East TD Michael Kitt said that Mr Cowen's style was very different to Mr Ahern's, but said that it was unfair to single out one person for the Government's mistakes.
"I think, as a Government, irrespective of who the leader was, I don't think we took our share of the blame. That was never maybe fully accepted," he said.
Mr Killeen said that Mr Ahern's remarks about Mr Cowen's style of communication were "a little unfair", adding that it was very challenging to communicate with the public about a situation that was changing so quickly.
"The message was being communicated at a time of enormous change and enormous difficulty for the country, which is a very different situation to the situation Bertie himself would have experienced for most of his time as Taoiseach," he said.
There was a sceptical response to Mr Ahern's interview on RTE's 'This Week' programme yesterday, with Labour TD Pat Rabbitte saying it was "the same old blather".
"He's blaming the present Taoiseach for not being as good a communicator as he was, which I think is a bit rich," he said.
Fine Gael deputy leader Dr James Reilly said Mr Ahern was someone who had left the North in peace but the South "in pieces".
And he dismissed Mr Ahern's claim that nobody told him about the risk of a banking crisis, saying "he didn't want to hear" any warnings.
A spokesman for Mr Cowen could not be contacted for comment about the criticisms by Mr Ahern.