TOURISM Minister Mary Hanafin insisted last night that she fully supported Brian Cowen as Fianna Fail leader and Taoiseach -- only hours after voting against him in a motion of confidence.
The minister, who was accused by some Fianna Fail TDs of "double speak", claimed that she had expressed concerns about Mr Cowen as party leader but not as Taoiseach.
Bizarrely, she insisted that the vote on Tuesday night was about the Fianna Fail leadership and not Mr Cowen's stewardship of the country as Taoiseach.
The Dun Laoghaire TD finally revealed yesterday that she had voted against Mr Cowen. However, she did not offer to resign from Cabinet, nor did the Taoiseach seek her resignation, she said.
Some TDs privately claimed that Ms Hanafin had "bottled it" ahead of Tuesday's vote and that there was disappointment she had not "spelt out her position". The explanation that finally came from Ms Hanafin -- who had remained silent on the leadership controversy -- baffled some Fianna Fail TDs.
"I did not vote no confidence in the Taoiseach because it wasn't a question about the Taoiseach. He made this very clear himself. It was about the leader of Fianna Fail," Ms Hanafin said.
Despite voting no confidence in him as leader on Tuesday, Ms Hanafin insisted that she now had confidence in Mr Cowen to lead Fianna Fail into the general election and to govern the country.
And she continued to insist that she had never questioned Mr Cowen's position as Taoiseach.
"It's a different role, a very different role. The Taoiseach is the person leading this Government and leading this country. I've confidence in that and I've confidence in that as a member of this Cabinet," she said.
When pressed if she also had confidence in Mr Cowen as leader of Fianna Fail, despite her vote on Tuesday night, Ms Hanafin said: "Yes, yes, I do."
Former Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin and Ms Hanafin are the only two senior ministers known to have voted against Mr Cowen.
While Mr Martin instantly resigned after Tuesday's result, Ms Hanafin did not.
Mr Martin last night refused to criticise Ms Hanafin's decision, claiming that he was the only one who needed to resign because of his "lead role".
Fine Gael's Alan Shatter upped the ante by claiming that Ms Hanafin's "mental reservations" about the Taoiseach were incompatible with her remaining in Cabinet.
But Mr Martin, who will now return to the Fianna Fail backbenches, insisted that only his resignation had been necessary.
"There was no need for anyone else to resign and I had that discussion with the Taoiseach as well," he said when asked if he was critical of Ms Hanafin's decision.
Asked if he was disappointed that Ms Hanafin had not offered him stronger support, Mr Martin said he had never asked her to follow the stance he had taken on Sunday night when he announced his opposition to Mr Cowen's leadership.
"Mary Hanafin has to do what Mary Hanafin has to do. I didn't solicit support from Mary on this. I didn't ask her to follow the stance I had taken."
Amid criticism over her failure to go public on her opposition to Mr Cowen before Tuesday night's vote, Ms Hanafin last night insisted her credibility was still intact.
The Tourism Minister, who was also viewed as a future leadership contender, had pledged to reveal her intentions before the vote.
Instead, she simply told Fianna Fail TDs that she would be voting in accordance with her conversations with the Taoiseach.
It was only yesterday she finally revealed that she had voted against the motion of confidence in the Taoiseach.
"My Taoiseach knew exactly what I was doing, why I stood up and said it. Certainly, other colleagues knew what I was doing but I didn't make it public. I chose not to get involved in a public campaign.
"I always said I would not be part of a heave and that I would accept whatever the result is," Ms Hanafin said.
She defended her decision to remain silent throughout the leadership debate of recent days, claiming that she didn't want to influence other Fianna Fail TDs.