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Angry O'Dea attacks Cowen's leadership

Direct criticism of the outgoing Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, came late last night from former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea who was elected on the fifth count in his Limerick constituency with a greatly reduced vote.

"I am very disappointed with the result. I am wondering how the Fianna Fail party has arrived at such a low," he said. "Obviously tough economic decisions had to be taken, but surely this can't be the total explanation of the catastrophe."

Mr O'Dea said that he had to question the political management over the last few years. "For one thing, communications left a lot to be desired," he said.

"For another, when John Gormley called for an election to be held at the end of January, the Taoiseach should have gone to the Park immediately instead of asking people to vote a matter of days after they had been hit by tax increases and social welfare cuts in a draconian budget. I just don't understand that."

Mr O'Dea also criticised some of the Fianna Fail former ministers who did not stand in the election.

"Some people who did well out of the party, (people) who achieved high status in the party and served for many years as ministers, they should have stood to bolster our representation in the 31st Dail. If they had stood, we would certainly have more seats than we have at the moment and I was disappointed they chose to walk away," Mr O'Dea said.

When asked who he was directing his comments at, Mr O'Dea replied: "You don't have to be Sherlock Holmes to work that out."

He said the election result was "horrendous day" for Fianna Fail. "Nevertheless it doesn't take away from my sense of disappointment at the national picture which is very, very grim," he added.

And Mr Cowen, who turned up at the Laois-Offaly count in Tullamore to support his brother Barry, expected to retain the Cowen 'family' seat, said he took "full responsibility" for the handling of the economic calamity that engulfed the country and has led to three years of recession.

"I have taken full responsibility. I am very sad about the fact that we have lost many good members but the people have decided that in this election and that's part of the process we are engaged in," he told Pat Kenny during an RTE interview.

"From my point of view as Taoiseach and having held ministerial positions in the past, I take full responsibility for all decisions, and I have never suggested otherwise. It's about tonight, it's about acknowledging the sovereignty of the people, to accept without equivocation, without condition, their verdict."

"I explained fully the motivation, the context, the content, the decisions that we made; I sought to make them with what I believed to be in the best interests of our country (in mind).

"I know that the immediate impact of that politically has meant that our party has performed very poorly in this election, and I don't ascribe that to anyone away from myself in terms of me being the former leader of the party. I am very sorry that there are many good people who won't be part of the next Dail as a result of the decision of the people."

Mr Cowen also reacted strongly, at one point, to the line of questioning. "If you as Pat Kenny are asking me how I am looking at myself in the mirror, everything I did I did for the good of this country as I saw it. I did it conscientiously and for you to suggest that I did it for any other reason, as you're seeking to suggest, I am afraid, is not necessary."

Asked if would accept that politically, the Cowen name was now toxic, given what had happened to the country, Barry Cowen who was waiting for further counts which would probably see him elected said: "I don't accept that. not at all. History will prove that the decisions he made, no matter how unpopular they have been were necessary. And I think the new government will pursue a similar line over the next 18 months. You'll hardly be calling Enda Kenny toxic!"

Meanwhile, FF leader Micheal Martin said he was confident there was a base to rebuild and renew the party "not just for its own sake but to re-engage and restore the trust of the Irish people".

Mr Martin repeated his pledge that FF would support, via a Tallaght Strategy-type stance from opposition, any policies by the new government that it believed supported Ireland's economic and fiscal restructuring -- already set in place by the outgoing government.

"I can't promise that we will be radical in the next Dail but we will be constructive and we will support the needs of the Irish people in the next Dail," he said.

Sunday Independent