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Fianna Fail fury as Cowen's Anglo 'think-tank' exposed

FIANNA FAIL ministers were fuming with Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night after he was caught out on failing to give full details of his contacts with Anglo Irish Bank chiefs.

A full four days into the controversy over his round of golf with former Anglo head Sean FitzPatrick, Mr Cowen was forced to admit holding an economic think-tank with a total of three figures connected with the bank.

Gary McGann, a former director and chair of the bank's audit committee, joined Mr Cowen, ex-Anglo director Fintan Drury and Mr FitzPatrick for dinner after their round of golf in Druid's Glen in July 2008 -- just months before the Government introduced the blanket state guarantee. But Mr Cowen failed to mention Mr McGann's Anglo connection when he was forced to disclose the information under Dail questioning.

The Taoiseach also said Alan Gray, an economic consultant, attended the dinner, where the economy was discussed.

Mr Gray said last night there was no discussion of banking issues or Anglo while he was present at the dinner.

"The purpose of the invitation was to provide independent ideas to stimulate economic growth and to reduce unemployment in Ireland," he said.

Mr Drury, a close friend and confidante of Mr Cowen since college, arranged the golf outing and dinner.

Senior ministers and backbenchers were furious with the latest revelations and with the lack of organisation within Fianna Fail just months away from the General Election.

The frustration with his inaction on election planning has been bubbling under for weeks. Mr Cowen will this morning face another crucial test at a meeting of Fianna Fail ministers and TDs.

The Fianna Fail parliamentary party meeting was not due to take place this week but had to be arranged following demands from TDs.

Mr Cowen had failed to voluntarily disclose who was at the dinner over the past four days. The Green Party, Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and the rest of the Cabinet were unaware of the attendees at the meeting.


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During a lengthy Dail debate, Mr Cowen angrily denied any wrongdoing but failed to allay the concerns within Fianna Fail or answer all the questions of the opposition.

And it was only after direct questioning by Sinn Fein that Mr Cowen revealed the presence of Mr Gray and Mr McGann at the dinner.

"There was no suggestion of meeting surreptitiously in a corner or a room. As the deputy (Caoimhghin O Caolain) can attest, we were in the open part of the area, where one is served a meal after a golf outing," Mr Cowen told the Dail.

"It was about being able to sit down with people at the end of the day and having a chat about the economy."

Mr Cowen said the chat allowed him to find out other people's "views of things" and to see if "things could be done which might be helpful".

Mr Cowen insisted Anglo Irish Bank was not discussed during his golf and dinner meetings and denied Labour's claims he was an "economic traitor".

Having already committed to staying in Government until the Finance Bill is passed, Green Party TD Paul Gogarty said he believed Mr Cowen was not "influenced" by these contacts when it came to later decisions.

When he met with Mr FitzPatrick, Mr Drury, Mr McGann and Mr Gray, it was out in the "open and in public and in full view", the Green Party TD said.

"Surely if they were having a crisis meeting, they wouldn't have it in a public room," he added.

His party colleague, Trevor Sargent, said there was "no smoking gun", other than the reminder of a culture that has an unhealthy dependency on the large corporate sector.

But he conceded his party was "sore" that all the information wasn't put out into the public domain earlier.

Fianna Fail TDs and ministers sat stony-faced during Mr Cowen's defence in the Dail.

"The most annoying thing is that he has done nothing in the last few weeks, it is pure laziness," one backbench TD said.

"Our canvassers are heartbroken over this. He has to go. He hasn't been seen in weeks; a simple doorstep would have helped but he didn't bother."

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