TAOISEACH Brian Cowen failed to inform Fianna Fail or Green Party ministers of previously undisclosed meetings with disgraced former Anglo Irish Bank chief Sean FitzPatrick.
Mr Cowen's hopes of staging a pre-election Fianna Fail fightback were dealt a devastating blow yesterday by damning new revelations about his cosy relationship with Mr FitzPatrick.
The Taoiseach will spend the coming days facing questions over his failure to disclose a series of personal dealings with the disgraced bank boss in the run-up to the blanket bank guarantee in 2008, prompted by Anglo's near collapse.
Mr Cowen faces a showdown with Greens' leader John Gormley tomorrow, and questions from the opposition.
However, the talks with the Greens are not expected to result in the junior coalition partners walking out of government before the expected General Election in March.
Fianna Fail TDs last night admitted the revelations were damaging to the Taoiseach's leadership.
However, his critics within the party again accepted it was unlikely to spark a heave against Mr Cowen as he was already so severely unpopular.
The concerns about Mr Cowen leading the party into the General Election have nonetheless intensified.
"I genuinely am totally dejected," a TD said. "The party is sleepwalking into an election and people are just hunkering down and trying to keep their own seats.
"You can't sell him (Mr Cowen) to the public. Hanafin, Martin, Lenihan, anyone, would be better. I think Coco the Clown would do better at this stage. The party has no ideas, no candidate strategy, no money."
And there was a feeling Mr Cowen's failure to tell about the contacts earlier would undermine his efforts to attack Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour Party leader Eamon Gilmore in the course of the campaign.
"Kenny can just talk about the golf trips with Seanie Fitz. If I was up against him, that's what I'd do," a Fianna Fail TD said.
Opposition parties demanded an explanation from Mr Cowen yesterday about the full extent of his dealings with Mr FitzPatrick.
Up until now, the only known meeting was a dinner with Anglo directors attended by Mr Cowen in April 2008 -- just a fortnight before he became Taoiseach.
But Mr FitzPatrick revealed he rang Mr Cowen in March 2008 to discuss problems with Anglo's market situation and shares, and businessman Sean Quinn's troubled shareholding.
Mr Cowen also played a round of golf and had dinner with Mr FitzPatrick in July 2008 -- two months before the bank guarantee was enacted.
The Taoiseach insists the pair did not discuss financial affairs on this "social occasion".
Mr Cowen's close friend and confidante, Fintan Drury, a former director of Anglo, was involved in all three contacts.
The Taoiseach said the only action he took on foot of talking to Mr FitzPatrick was to refer the issue of Anglo's shares to the governor of the Central Bank in March 2008.
Mr Cowen admits he did not tell his cabinet colleagues about his dealings with Mr FitzPatrick.
"There was no reason to inform other ministers because the Taoiseach did what was required -- he informed the Governor of the Central Bank of the content of the phone call," his spokesman said.
Meanwhile, it is believed the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) considered taking out an injunction against the new book in which Mr FitzPatrick gives his version of Anglo's collapse.
There were concerns the book's contents could jeopardise potential prosecutions against Anglo management. But the DPP's office did not take any action and did not obtain a copy in advance of publication.
Penguin, the publishers of the book, 'The FitzPatrick Tapes' said it had had no contact from state authorities.