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Cowen tells party members he is not standing down

Taoiseach Brian Cowen faced down questions over the leadership of his own party today.

Amid damning criticism of his contacts with Anglo-Irish Bank executives, Mr Cowen told Fianna Fail colleagues he would speak to them individually to address concerns.

TDs and Senators were also warned that party procedures should be followed if members were to try a leadership heave.

Amid intense speculation that Cabinet ministers had joined some disgruntled backbenchers to challenge the Taoiseach, the weekly Fianna Fail meeting was put back three hours.

Insiders at the parliamentary meeting revealed that Mr Cowen spoke for about 10 minutes and "effectively put it up to them".

The Taoiseach told the meeting that he accepted that there were concerns about the leadership and that he was willing to talk to any member who wanted to speak with him.

It is understood three TDs challenged Mr Cowen.

Earlier, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, who has been spoken of as a leadership contender, insisted there would not be a motion of no confidence at the meeting.

"Brian Cowen is the elected leader of the Fianna Fail party. As one of his ministers, naturally I have confidence in him," he said in Belfast.

"We are heading into an election now, deputies are anxious about the future direction of the party. There is concern among the membership about the very survival of the party itself. Naturally there is a very vigorous internal debate within the party."

The most recent Red C opinion poll put Fianna Fail at just 14pc - a record low.

Despite showing his fighting strength in the party, Mr Cowen will go on to face a vote of no confidence in him as Taoiseach.

Sinn Fein TD Caoimhghin O Caolain announced the motion but warned it may be as late as March before it can be heard.

It will allow all TDs in the Dail to vote on whether Mr Cowen should remain as the head of Government, a separate move from internal wranglings he faces in his own party.

PA Media