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Ministers stand by Taoiseach following opposition claims

Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin defended his party leader and the Taoiseach's interview performance, saying he was hoarse.

"I think, from a content perspective, I had no difficulty with the interview at all," said Mr Martin.

"Of course, the Taoiseach was very hoarse during the interview, that was self-evident and very clear. But it seems to me that that seems to be what the issue is about, that the Taoiseach was hoarse."

Roisin Shortall, Labour Party TD, described the interview as one of the most inept and unconvincing by a Taoiseach in the history of the state.

"Such a performance by a Taoiseach at any time would be a matter of concern, but at a time when the country is facing such huge economic problems, it must set serious alarm bells ringing," she said.

"When the country is crying out for leadership, looking out for some optimism for the future, we had an interview from a Taoiseach that was semi-coherent and offered no hope or no vision."

Ms Shortall added: "The point of no return has now been reached.

"Only a general election and the return of a new government with a fresh mandate can rescue the country from the morass into which Fianna Fail has led it."

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey said he was shocked that Mr Cowen's on-air delivery was the issue and not Government policy.

"I thought that the content was very good. The Taoiseach dealt with very serious issues. I'm absolutely astounded that we're now here doing interviews about the tone of his voice than the actual content," Mr Dempsey said.

The minister suggested there was an underhand agenda at play, promoted by the Fine Gael opposition party.

He added: "That doesn't just happen."

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The severe criticism of the Taoiseach in political circles began initially with a Tweet from Fine Gael transport spokesman Simon Coveney.

He posted to the online networking site: "God, what an uninspiring interview by Taoiseach this morning. He sounded half way between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested."

Mr Martin criticised the opposition TD, saying: "I would have expected better from Simon."

Sinn Fein's Caoimhghin O Caolain refused to become involved in the fierce attack on the Taoiseach.

"The physical state of the Taoiseach Brian Cowen after the first night of his party's think-in is far less important than what he actually said," Mr O Caolain said.

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