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Invitation gaffe ruins attempt to win over rebel TD

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen's hopes of winning over a dissident Fianna Fail backbencher were dashed last night after his invitation to the party's think-in was withdrawn.

Tipperary South TD Mattie McGrath had received an invitation to the party's annual think-in, but he was later stunned when the party informed him he was not welcome.

He hit out at party officials for taking back the invite, stating there is "clearly no olive branch".

"I had my pass and garda clearance, but when I rang HQ they told me it was sent in error. I was told I wouldn't be allowed in if I came along. I had my shirt and suit and everything," Mr McGrath said. "It was like getting a wedding invite and then being told you can't go."

Fianna Fail general secretary Sean Dorgan informed Mr McGrath the invitation was sent in error. Under party rules, those who have resigned the parliamentary party whip cannot attend such functions.

Party sources said there had been a genuine mistake made when issuing the invites.

The withdrawal of Mr McGrath's invitation came as Mr Cowen attempted to extend an olive branch to four TDs who resigned the party whip and can no longer be completely relied upon to vote with Fianna Fail.

Mr Cowen earlier signalled he would like Mr McGrath and the three other TDs to return to the parliamentary party. He is anxious to shore up support because of his ever-narrowing majority and the party's plummeting opinion poll ratings.

When asked if he would like to have them back within the party fold, Mr Cowen said: "Obviously it's a matter we'd like to see resolved, but it's a matter for them.

"They left the parliamentary party on the basis of some local issues. We are very conscious of the fact that they are continuing to support the party and will do so on the basis of the Programme for Government we are implementing."

The four TDs Mr Cowen is attempting to reach out to include Mr McGrath, Jim McDaid of Donegal North East, and Jimmy Devins and Eamon Scanlon of Sligo-Leitrim.

Three of these -- Mr McGrath, Mr Devins and Mr Scanlon -- have made a return contingent on their demands being met.

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Mr Devins and Mr McGrath, claimed their support in the Dail cannot be taken for granted, while Mr Scanlon signalled he may be open to a return in the future. Mr McDaid could not be contacted for comment.


Mr McGrath said he would need a lot of "serious discussion" with Mr Cowen on everything from the "nonsensical" policies of the Greens to the need for "decisive leadership".

Only then would he contemplate any return to the parliamentary party.

High-profile figures such as former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and backbenchers Sean Fleming, Tom Kitt and John McGuinness were missing for the start of the party's think-in.

But most of them were expected to attend by last night or today. Party sources said each had genuine reasons for their absences and it was not part of any "protest" against Fianna Fail or the leadership.

Mr O'Dea, who urged Mr Cowen to face up to the three by-elections over the weekend, was one of the most high-profile absentees. He is due to attend today's session.

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