Cowen calls TDs to check if he still has their support
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen spent part of his weekend calling backbenchers in Fianna Fail to see if he could still count on their support.
The Irish Independent has learned that Mr Cowen was working the phones to rank and file TDs to see if they still backed him after a week of unprecedented backbench disquiet.
There was widespread mutterings among Fianna Fail TDs in the wake of Mr Cowen's conservative reshuffle and rebel TD John McGuinness called on the Taoiseach to resign.
A number of TDs were also sounding out colleagues to gauge the level of discontent with Mr Cowen, and otherwise loyal TDs such as Bobby Aylward and MJ Nolan publicly criticised his leadership.
As backbenchers returned to the Dail from their constituencies yesterday, many discussed how the Taoiseach had called some of them over the weekend.
Mr Cowen is to face his internal critics at a parliamentary party meeting this afternoon, when Mr McGuinness is expected to challenge him on his leadership of the party and the country. However, Mr McGuinness is not expected to have substantial support from his colleagues in the Dail and Seanad, apart from the possibility of one or two traditional dissidents speaking up.
Those who grumbled about Mr Cowen's leadership last week say they have listened to their constituents and will not support Mr McGuinness.
Some TDs are expected to raise the issue of Mr Cowen's presentation and communication skills, and criticise his way of getting the Government's message across to the public.
Meanwhile, the ban on stag hunting was a step closer last night after the Cabinet approved a bill outlawing the controversial sport.
The Green-driven bill will now go before the Oireachtas and Environment Minister John Gormley hopes it will become law well in advance of the beginning of this year's hunt in November. Thousands of pro-hunting demonstrators descended on the Greens' convention in Waterford at the weekend to protest at the introduction of the bill but Mr Gormley vowed to push it through.
When passed, the Wildlife Amendment Bill will outlaw the hunting of deer by packs of hounds, on the grounds of animal welfare and public safety.
Meanwhile, some Fianna Fail backbenchers were yesterday outraged by what they saw as a snub by Mr Gormley, who was due to discuss his dog breeding bill with them.
Mr Gormley was scheduled to brief the TDs around 3.30pm but the meeting was postponed because of a mix-up.
Dog breeding, similar to the issue of corporate donations, is lining up to be a contentious issue between Fianna Fail and the Greens.
Mr Gormley's meeting with the environmental policy group of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party takes place every few weeks and many TDs have major issues with the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009.