Lenihan leaves door open on future bid for the leadership
FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan is leaving the door open on a future leadership bid, Fianna Fail backbenchers claimed last night.
But TDs insisted a leadership change is not on the agenda as they face into the Fianna Fail think-in next week and a tough December Budget.
Some Fianna Fail backbenchers, disgruntled with Taoiseach Brian Cowen's leadership, said they were "reassured" yesterday after Mr Lenihan failed to rule out a future leadership bid.
The minister, who has been suffering from pancreatic cancer, said he was not part of any plot to remove Mr Cowen and was not canvassing backbenchers for support.
But when asked twice if he would be interested in the leadership in future, Mr Lenihan simply said there was "no vacancy" at the moment.
"There isn't a vacancy at present so we're not at the stage where you can start talking about who would or would not be leader of a party," he said.
"Some other taoisigh have made the point. . . everyone wants to be party leader at some stage. But there's no vacancy at present. That's the position."
When asked again if he would like to be leader at some stage, Mr Lenihan repeated there was "no vacancy".
Last night, Fianna Fail backbenchers claimed the minister was trying to unite the party behind Mr Cowen given the difficult months ahead -- without completely ruling himself out of a future leadership bid.
However, his aunt and backbencher Mary O'Rourke said Mr Lenihan had made it clear he had just two jobs in hand.
"He just said quite clearly there is no vacancy. He repeated it. . . He was saying he has two jobs in hand. . . One is his own health. . . and the second one is the health of the nation," she said.
But other colleagues claimed the minister had "left open" the possibility of a leadership bid.
"The minister didn't rule out the leadership issue. The normal way to get out of it is to say there's no vacancy," one TD said.
Another TD claimed that Mr Lenihan would need to "bring more certainty" to his health status.
"But once he can prove his health is okay, the leadership is there for him," the TD said.
All TDs contacted last night claimed they had never been canvassed by Mr Lenihan on the question of a leadership bid.
While some TDs said Mr Lenihan had only been "defensive" of Mr Cowen, others claimed he had given him "fulsome support".
The minister earlier claimed the Taoiseach and he were working "very very closely" on the different problems facing the country.
"He was chosen by the Fianna Fail parliamentary party as the leader and nobody has suggested to me that that should be changed," Mr Lenihan said.
LENIHAN'S LONG-TERM VIEW: PAGE 23