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Lenihan under fire over leadership 'u-turn'

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has not got the bottle for a leadership coup, a disgruntled backbencher claimed today.

Rebel TDs accused the senior Cabinet minister of turning on them after privately voicing concerns about Taoiseach Brian Cowen only to support him on the leadership question.

One claimed he had encouraged revolt over the last year.

But Mr Lenihan said he had never indicated support for a coup, insisting he had to maintain a good relationship with the Taoiseach to tackle the economic crisis.

Former junior minister Sean Power, an outspoken critic of Mr Cowen, said he was surprised and shocked by Mr Lenihan's apparent U-turn.

"I along with colleagues have spoken to Brian (Lenihan) over a long period of time," Mr Power said.

"The concerns that we expressed were shared by him."

Backbencher John McGuinness, a former junior minister and another long-time critic of Mr Cowen, suggested Mr Lenihan had been encouraging TDs to revolt.

"I would imagine that all of the backbenchers are shocked by what he had to say," Mr McGuinness said.

He added: "In all of our discussions we were led to believe that Brian (Lenihan) would have been a candidate, that he was interested and that he was actively seeking support from the backbenches."

Mr Lenihan has long been regarded as a potential leadership contender to take over from Mr Cowen, along with Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin and Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin.

But anti-Cowen backbenchers said Mr Lenihan has now destroyed any potential leadership ambitions by failing to take on the Taoiseach, claiming Mr Martin was a shoe-in for the role should it arise.

One TD firmly in the Martin camp said Mr Lenihan's stance smacked of a lack of courage.

"I'm very surprised and very disappointed," he said.

"I don't think it will have done him (Brian Lenihan) any good. I think there will be a lot of people who would have believed he would have been up for the challenge and has now backed down.

"I think they would feel there was a certain lack of bottle there."

Mr Lenihan denied he ever indicated support for a coup against Mr Cowen, insisting the economic crisis facing the country made it impossible for him to come out against the Taoiseach.

"I made it clear at all stages to those who approached me in this particular subject that I was very flattered in their interest in me being leader of the party," he told RTE Radio.

"But I indicated that the financial work facing the country made it impossible for me to disrupt the relationship, the good working relationship, that any finance minister must have with the Taoiseach."

Another backbencher, who did not wish to be named, expressed dismay at Mr Lenihan's position.

"I just don't want to believe that he's going to say that," he said.

"I'm just a bit despondent about what I'm hearing."

He said Mr Lenihan's move boosted Mr Martin's chances of ultimately leading the party.

"Within the party you would have the view that Martin went up there, put his name up, with a strong feeling that a change would help our position," he said.

"He (Brian Lenihan) will be damaged and Micheal Martin will certainly do himself no harm."

PA Media

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