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Cowen survives but new FF war begins

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen last night survived as Fianna Fail leader -- but fault lines emerged for a bitter new leadership battle after the general election.

Immediately after the vote was known, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin said he was resigning from Cabinet. Mr Cowen accepted his resignation.

The Taoiseach won the motion of confidence among Fianna Fail TDs at a meeting in Leinster House last night.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan sparked an angry backlash when he shocked Fianna Fail backbenchers by weighing in behind Mr Cowen.

Enraged Fianna Fail TDs said Mr Lenihan's support of Mr Cowen was "not what he has been telling backbenchers" during talks on the leadership of the party. His stance provoked a tense atmosphere, after what had been a mannerly debate to date.

Fianna Fail TDs debated the party leadership for almost three hours last night.

Mr Cowen opened the meeting with a 40-minute long address to TDs and senators.

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin spoke for 10 minutes, delivering a speech that was described as "excellent and electrifying".

But Mr Cowen had a bit more passion in his address at the end of the meeting. He said anyone who didn't believe his version of events on his dealings with Anglo Irish Bank bosses should not vote for him.

Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin spoke for one minute but did not indicate whether she would be supporting the Taoiseach or not.

The meeting was addressed by up to 20 TDs and senators were requested not to speak, as they were not entitled to vote on the leadership.


Mr Cowen himself proposed the motion of confidence in his leadership which read: "That the Fianna Fail Parliamentary Party has confidence in Brian Cowen TD as Leader of Fianna Fail". Tanaiste Mary Coughlan formally seconded the motion.

A total of 71 TDs were entitled to vote and arrangements were expected to be made for Justice Minister Dermot Ahern to cast his vote from hospital after his hip operation last week.

Mr Cowen said he put down the motion to bring "clarity and certainty" to the leadership issue. Mr Martin repeated his view that the very future of the Fianna Fail party was at stake.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore both accused the Government of not having its eye on the ball because it was focused on the Fianna Fail leadership.

"There is nobody minding the shop, Taoiseach, while Fianna Fail is trying to sort out its internal difficulties," Mr Gilmore told Mr Cowen in the Dail.

The Fianna Fail leadership debate was overshadowed by a bitter spat over Mr Lenihan's alleged involvement in efforts to undermine Mr Cowen.

The Taoiseach's prospects of victory were strengthened by Mr Lenihan's backing, but the Finance Minister was forced to deny he was stirring up a backbench revolt and plotting a leadership heave against Mr Cowen.

"I haven't had time to organise a coup or a challenge in the last year," he said.

The Finance Minister admitted he had been expressing "concerns" to Fianna Fail TDs about the party's position in opinion polls under Mr Cowen's leadership.

And he criticised Mr Cowen for "lapses in judgment" over the Taoiseach's infamous interview in Galway and his golf game with former Anglo Irish Bank boss Sean FitzPatrick.

But several Fianna Fail backbenchers said they were shocked by Mr Lenihan's support of Mr Cowen.

Fianna Fail backbencher John McGuinness claimed Mr Lenihan did "encourage dissent" among backbenchers.

He accused Mr Lenihan of "actively seeking support from the backbenches" and a change of leadership was "something that was discussed with Brian over a long period of time".

Irish Independent