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Defiant Cowen aims to create new 'frontbench'

DEFIANT Taoiseach Brian Cowen shrugged off suggestions of a threat to his leadership by insisting he would lead Fianna Fail into the general election.

He tried to move on from his botched reshuffle, insisting: "That issue is over."

And having failed to gain Green party approval for the reshuffle, he announced he would be creating a new Fianna Fail "frontbench" instead -- so younger TDs in the party can be assigned portfolios to boost their profile ahead of the general election.

Mr Cowen was attending one of the twice-yearly meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council at its new headquarters in Co Armagh.

The meetings are usually attended by all cabinet ministers from both governments. But there were just five ministers from Mr Cowen's depleted Cabinet present yesterday.

Mr Cowen denied any cabinet ministers had asked him in the past 24 hours to reconsider his position. And he said he had not been considering resigning.

"I remain as determined as I have always been to ensure that the Fianna Fail party's participation and contribution to the recovery of this country, under our four-year economic plan, is put to the people in a fair and impartial way," he added.

Mr Cowen said there would be an obligation on all media organisations to do that during an election campaign, so the "good name" of his party was not sullied by the opposition.

He said he was "confident" the Government could defeat the Labour Party motion of no confidence next week.

Mr Cowen denied his authority had been damaged by the failure of his plan to replace the six cabinet ministers.

"What was involved yesterday was a refusal of the Green Party to support my entitlement," he said.

Mr Cowen signalled he would now pursue an alternative -- a new Fianna Fail frontbench.

"I will now do that obviously by the establishment of my own frontbench to deal with that issue and fight those elections," he said.

Irish Independent