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Cowen faces new backbench revolt

Taoiseach Brian Cowen will have to move decisively or face a backbench upheaval, according to senior party members speaking this weekend.

There is now grave concern that the dominance of the triumvirate of Mr Cowen, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Tanaiste Mary Coughlan, is severely damaging morale within the parliamentary party.

The Sunday Independent understands that a small group of backbenchers, concerned about the state of the party, met informally last week. At that meeting, recent disastrous opinion polls, the fallout from the Budget and the prospects for the forthcoming local and European elections were discussed.

It has emerged that a significant rump of those in attendance believe Charlie McCreevy should be brought back from Brussels to rescue the party's fortunes.

Several ministers have admitted to this newspaper that the party is now suffering from a major "communications crisis".

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The reception for the Taoiseach at the €100-a-head Cairde Fail dinner on Friday night at the Citywest Hotel was extremely muted with his address receiving a tepid reception.

One backbencher, alluding to the muted applause accorded Mr Cowen at his first Cairde Fail dinner as leader muttered later: "Brian has lost the dressing room. He's a dead man walking."

Mr Cowen is likely to come under major pressure from his Cabinet colleagues and members of the parliamentary party to make a state of the nation address to let the people know what is being done to deal with the recession and mounting job losses.

Speaking this weekend, former chief whip Tom Kitt criticised Mr Cowen in a TV3 interview saying he has suffered from "poor communications and consultation" and expressed his concern about the emergence of the triumvirate within the Cabinet.

"I suppose at the moment, looking at it from my perspective, I can see where we need to maybe improve communications. There is talk of a triumvirate. Well, you hear that there's a group of three. My view would be that we need to get communications right within the Cabinet, we also need to make sure that permeates down into the parliamentary party."

Many of those who wined and dined on Friday night, echoed Mr Kitt's concerns, saying a hammering in the upcoming elections is inevitable unless there is a major change in direction.

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One senior party member told the Sunday Independent: "Perception counts for a lot and we are lost at the minute."

Senior party figures also voiced concern at the role of Eoghan O Neachtain, Government Press Secretary, who has become engaged in a virtual stand-off with political reporters in recent weeks which they say is contributing to the negative coverage they are receiving.

The party machine has also been criticised for being "in a chaotic state" in terms of preparations for the local and European elections in June.

"This stage five years ago all the councillors would have been long selected and out on the beat. We're still deciding and we're not as well organised. We're way behind."

In addition to the Budget backlash, there is disquiet on the backbenches and by the party's councillors about the direction the party is taking.

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