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No appetite for leadership challenge in FF -- Hanafin

THERE is no appetite for a Fianna Fail heave against Brian Cowen, a leading minister claimed last night.

Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin was speaking after a backbencher threw the Taoiseach's leadership into the spotlight once more.

Kildare South TD and former junior minister Sean Power again asked if Mr Cowen should lead Fianna Fail into the election, after directly challenging the Taoiseach on the issue at a parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday. He was backed up in his call yesterday by another rebel TD, John McGuinness.

But a number of senior ministers came out to support the Taoiseach as a group of FF TDs and senators met last night to examine the party's prospects at the next general election.

The 'Lemass Forum' was established by the deputies in the last Dail term as a separate discussion outlet to parliamentary party meetings.

Last night's meeting -- which was attended by 38 TDs and senators -- was addressed by political analyst Noel Whelan who said Fianna Fail had to focus on the Labour Party, the current frontrunner. Based on current polls, which have FF on 24pc, Mr Whelan said the party could lose 50 seats and encouraged TDs to focus on Labour's scant policy details.

Limerick West TD Niall Collins, who chaired the meeting, described the session as very productive and well attended. But, despite the bad polls, Ms Hanafin says the focus is on the preparation of the Budget and the four-year plan to bring down the deficit and not Mr Cowen's leadership.

"I don't believe that anybody has an appetite for taking on a challenge against the Taoiseach, recognising that he is doing a very difficult job at a difficult time," Ms Hanafin said.

"Sean Power is a very open and honest person. He chose to make his comments inside the parliamentary party and again on radio. There wasn't a group of people lined up behind him, people who might have been outspoken in the past did not speak out against the Taoiseach."


Mr Power was one of the so-called 'gang of four' who proposed a motion of no confidence in then Taoiseach Charles Haughey in 1991.

A son of former fisheries minister Paddy Power, he was given a junior ministerial position under Bertie Ahern, but was left out in the cold when Mr Cowen cut the number of junior ministers last year.

Justice Minister Dermot Ahern also said he did not support Mr Power's point of view.

"There has to be an understanding that no matter who is Taoiseach and no matter who is in Government, these decisions have to be taken and it has been a difficult two and a half years for the country," Mr Ahern said.

"And equally so it has been a difficult two and half years for the Taoiseach and the Cabinet in that we have had to make decisions that perhaps, if things were better, we wouldn't be making."

Irish Independent