FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan's prospects of leading Fianna Fail took a further battering last night as more TDs expressed shock and anger at his decision to support Taoiseach Brian Cowen in the party confidence motion.
TDs claimed he led them to believe he could lead Fianna Fail and always provided an ear to those disgruntled at Mr Cowen's leadership.
Mr Lenihan has denied orchestrating a coup in the party and has publicly dismissed the idea of replacing Mr Cowen as party leader but leaving him as caretaker Taoiseach.
Junior minister Conor Lenihan, Brian's brother, yesterday revealed he voted against Mr Cowen but gave no indication he would resign his ministry.
Cork North-Central TD Noel O'Flynn claimed Mr Lenihan told him last October that Fianna Fail would do much better in the opinion polls if he was in charge.
"He said that if he was leader we could be at 31pc in the polls, that was when we were at 24pc," Mr O'Flynn said.
"He didn't say he was going for it but I went over to him to talk about the leadership and the drop in the polls. At that stage it was widely known to backbenchers that he was concerned about the polls and about the leadership."
Another TD, who did not want to be named, said he also had discussions with Mr Lenihan on the leadership issue.
"He told me he was amazed with the level of support he was getting," the rural TD said. "He said he had the support of TDs in all constituencies and even from rivals in the one constituency.
"He never said he was going for it but he was asking if he could do anything in my constituency, 'what can I do for you' and that kind of thing and did I want him to come down and do a tour of the constituency."
Mr Lenihan was also widely observed in the corridors of Leinster House last Thursday discussing the leadership with party members.
One of those who spoke with Mr Lenihan that day claimed the minister said a new party leader could be installed while leaving Mr Cowen as Taoiseach.
"Do you remember that picture on the front of the Independent of him in the car park?" another TD asked in reference to a picture in this paper in November of Mr Lenihan chatting to a number of TDs, with rebel John McGuinness in the group. "What do you think they were talking about?"
Mr McGuinness has said Mr Lenihan had been encouraging dissent and told backbenchers to "look at the numbers", while Kildare South TD Sean Power said he was "surprised and shocked" at Mr Lenihan's stance this week.
Dublin North's Michael Kennedy said he "would certainly have been of the view that Mr Lenihan would like to be the leader".
Meath East TD Thomas Byrne said that although he had often talked about party issues with Mr Lenihan, the finance minister never suggested he would challenge for the leadership.
But another TD claimed he had been "putting it about" that something had to be done with the party and the leadership.