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Martin told Cowen his time was up

MINISTER Micheal Martin told Taoiseach Brian Cowen face to face that he believed Fianna Fail needed a change of leader at a meeting in Government Buildings last Monday night, it has emerged.

The Sunday Independent has learned that the Foreign Affairs Minister had received calls from countless backbenchers and several junior ministers since the publication of the Red C poll the previous Friday, which put FF's rating at just 14 per cent.

The revelation that Mr Cowen had met with former Anglo boss Sean FitzPatrick only intensified the volume of calls from party members to both Mr Martin and another leadership contender, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.

On foot of the Anglo controversy that erupted last Sunday, Mr Martin sought a meeting with Mr Cowen for the following day.

It was at this meeting that the state of the party and the issue of Mr Cowen's leadership were discussed at length.

Mr Martin bluntly told the Taoiseach that the party needed a change of direction, a new wave of energy and that there was a "desire and appetite" within Fianna Fail for a new leader.

Mr Cowen's defensive performance in the Dail on Wednesday did little to quell the disquiet and once the parliamentary party meeting was called for the following day, many within the party expected a showdown between Mr Cowen and the pretenders to his throne -- Mr Martin, Mr Lenihan and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin.

An informal meeting of rebel party members is said to have taken place in Buswell's Hotel, beside the Dail, on Wednesday night.

Mr Lenihan was in Stormont on Thursday morning and when the meeting of the parliamentary party was postponed from 11.30am to 3pm, speculation grew that the Taoiseach would announce his intention to step down.

The Finance Minister hastily returned to Dublin and a number of ministers have confirmed that it was their expectation that Mr Cowen's tenure was coming to an end.

Up to 2pm, all the signals from the Cowen camp were that he was going -- but by the time he entered the meeting, his mind had changed.

Many backbenchers expressed anger at the refusal of either Mr Martin or Mr Lenihan to confront Mr Cowen at the meeting or move against the Taoiseach.

A number of Leinster-based party members immediately set out trying to gather the 18 signatures required for a motion of no confidence. They were unsuccessful.

Yesterday, Mr Martin was refusing to comment publicly but it is believed that he spoke again to Mr Cowen and reiterated his opinion that a change of leader was needed.

Mary Hanafin has been the most vocal critic of the Golfgate affair within the Cabinet.

Yesterday, she was refusing to answer her phone, but there is speculation that she is considering resigning her cabinet seat.

Other ministers who were speaking yesterday, such as Pat Carey and Tony Killeen, were maintaining the party line and insisted that it was up to Mr Cowen to make the next move.

Given the lack of official comment yesterday from Mr Cowen or any of the pretenders, it now appears to be a matter of when, not if, Mr Martin will make his move.

Sunday Independent