Cowen is all at sea as FF fears wipeout
Senior figures look to Lenihan to lead party
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen's leadership is under severe pressure this weekend amid rising speculation of a summer heave against him.
Senior party figures have said the overwhelming support of the party now lies behind Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, who they now want to become leader in order to prevent an "electoral wipeout" at the next election.
The attitude was summed up by a party stalwart.
"I believe it is time for Brian Lenihan to step up to the plate if he is well enough," he said.
Mr Cowen's continuing low poll ratings, his poor legacy from his time in the Department of Finance and his ongoing communication problems have many within the party fearing that Fianna Fail could lose between 25 and 30 seats at the next election.
More pressing, the backing of a number of key independent deputies now appears in jeopardy as they have said they will not support this week's stag hunting bill or any introduction of a property tax.
Speaking to this newspaper on the rising dissent in his own party, Mr Cowen said: "We and I have had to take difficult decisions and there are always ripples [of discontent] under the surface, but overall I believe the party is solid.
"I'm very pleased with the discipline of the party, despite very difficult and challenging times. Look, we have a job to do, we have another two years to go," he added.
Despite the momentum building up behind him, both within the party and among the public, Mr Lenihan said that he fully supported his leader.
He said: "I have full confidence in Brian Cowen, he does a tremendous job in chairing the Government meetings. He has supported me to the hilt in the tough decisions I have had to make to put our economy back on track."
According to the latest Sunday Independent Quantum Research nationwide poll, Mr Lenihan is by far the public's favourite to lead Fianna Fail. Some 49 per cent feel he would be the best leader, up five points since our last poll two weeks ago.
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Of those who were polled, many said the question of his health remains, but he is seen as the most able of the cabinet. Only 14 per cent feel Brian Cowen is the best man to lead the party, a drop of two points. Micheal Martin is the second favourite on 23 per cent, down from 28 per cent.
Dermot Ahern is on 14 per cent, up from 12 per cent two weeks ago.
Independent TDs Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae, on whom the Government depends for support, have said they are seeking a meeting with the Taoiseach over his continued support for the Government in the Dail.