Cowen push 'would be disaster for FF'
FIANNA Fail faces electoral disaster if it panics and attempts a leadership change in the middle of the worst economic crisis in Irish history.
The stark warning came from former Food Minister and outspoken Fianna Fail backbench TD Ned O'Keeffe, who rejected calls from a mayor in his own constituency for Taoiseach Brian Cowen to resign.
The Mayor of Midleton in east Cork, Niall O'Neill (FF), sensationally called for Mr Cowen to resign and called the Cabinet "a bunch of chickens" if they did not mount a leadership challenge.
However, Mr O'Keeffe -- one of FF's most maverick TDs -- warned that the party could cripple itself for years to come if it made a move against Mr Cowen who, he insisted, was doing a remarkable job.
"It would be a disaster -- it would do untold damage to the party to try to change leader now," he told the Sunday Independent.
"Brian Cowen is doing a very good job -- that is recognised internationally. He has already been rated one of the best leaders in the world in terms of handling the economic crisis.
"It would be absolute madness to try to get rid of the man when he is working so well. He has my full support and I know that there is no appetite at all out there for a leadership change," he said.
Mr O'Keeffe said voters nationwide wanted the Government to get on with the job of stabilising the economy, sorting out the financial crisis and kick-starting job creation.
The Mitchelstown TD warned that if Fianna Fail panicked and undermined Mr Cowen, the party would pay a price at the next General Election that could dwarf the losses sustained in the 2009 local government elections.
Defence Minister Tony Killeen echoed Mr O'Keeffe's comments -- and warned that there was no question over Mr Cowen's leadership of either the party or country.
"Brian Cowen is by far the best (man) to lead the country at this point. We have moved long past the considerations of party because the economic crisis which faces this country, and a lot of the world, requires us to work together," he said.
"Quite frankly, I think it is extremely unhelpful to be distracted by calls of that nature."
However, an unrepentant Mr O'Neill said he felt it was vital for the party to face up to the grim reality -- and reconnect with its grassroots and ideals.
And he said he was "astonished" that no senior cabinet member had to date challenged Mr Cowen's leadership.
"I have heard it said that none of the Cabinet would want the job -- because it is only a poisoned chalice. If that was the case, you would have to ask if the country was being led by 15 chickens in the Cabinet," he said.
"We need someone fearless -- someone who has not lost sight of the ideals of FF. Sean Lemass was such a person when he came in at a very difficult time in Irish history -- there are several good candidates (for Taoiseach) and I cannot accept that no one would want the job," Mr O'Neill said.