Cowen toasts fading Lenihan challenge
THE leadership question had already been answered the night before yesterday's meeting of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party.
Brian Lenihan was perched on a stool in the members' bar in Leinster House, while Brian Cowen and a coterie of bar-lobby buddies were sat at a nearby table. Earlier, the Taoiseach had barnstormed his way through a series of interviews from early morning and lunchtime radio to a showdown finale on RTE's 'Prime Time'.
Mr Cowen had reconnected with his internal bruiser and the seven pals cheered as his best lines were reprised over a drink across the table.
Mr Lenihan has the reputation of being as careful with his own spending as he is expected to be cautious with taxpayers' cash.
Calling for a round of drinks from his bar stool was a surprise -- relations between the Finance Minister and the Taoiseach have been strained recently.
The table appreciated his generosity and took it to be a magnanimous acceptance by Mr Lenihan that the Taoiseach would lead FF into the election.
Fast forward to yesterday and Mary O'Rourke TD, an aunt of Mr Lenihan, said she believed that Mr Cowen would still be leader on polling day.
Then another bravado performance at the parliamentary party meeting yesterday seemed to seal the deal.
However, the most dogged dissidents have not gone away.
"He didn't ask for an endorsement to lead the party into the election and it wasn't given," said one backbencher last night, adding: "He got peace over Christmas."
Mr Cowen also showered praise on Mr Lenihan at the meeting, although some backbenchers thought it was so fulsome that he was acknowledging a rival for the leadership standing aside.
The most significant decision taken at the meeting was to accept a motion from Thomas Byrne and Michael McGrath to have the Dail debate and approve the bailout deal struck with the IMF and the EU.
A succession of speakers at the parliamentary party meeting deplored the news that bankers would get bonuses in banks kept afloat with taxpayers' money -- with calls for the bonuses to be "taxed at 99pc".
There will be another meeting of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party next week but they will not meet again until after the Dail returns after the Christmas on January 11.
Last night, Mary Hanafin said: "The Taoiseach has come out fighting. From day one, I've said there is no heave and I'd have no part in a heave.
"But some day in the future, whenever the opportunity arises -- I don't see that happening in the short term -- it would be my intention (to run for leader)."