O'Rourke backs Lenihan to lead -- but only if he's fit
FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan can still be leader of Fianna Fail -- but his battle with cancer must come first, his aunt, Fianna Fail TD Mary O'Rourke, said yesterday.
The 'Mammy' of the Dail publicly expressed her desire to see her nephew take over the leadership from Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
It is widely speculated within the party that Mr Cowen will step down as leader after seeing the Budget through on December 7.
Some TDs are floating the idea that Mr Cowen could stay on as Taoiseach but allow someone else fight the election as party leader.
Mr Lenihan is seen as a likely candidate in a leadership race, but Ms O'Rourke said his health must come first.
"I would like to see Brian Lenihan (as leader) but my first and main priority is Brian Lenihan's health," she told Shannonside Radio yesterday. "He is my nephew, my blood nephew and I want to see him healthy and well again. "
Mr Lenihan was the favoured successor to Mr Cowen just weeks ago but the fallout from the €50bn 'Black Thursday' bank bail out announcement and the handling of the arrival of EU-IMF teams have seen his stock fall amongst TDs.
Foreign Affairs Minister Michael Martin is as the current favourite, with Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin also in the running.
Ms Hanafin is the only contender so far to say she would enter a leadership contest.
Backbench TDs are already sounding contenders out about a leadership contest.
But Mr Cowen last night said there were mechanisms to remove him as leader, meaning a motion of no confidence at the parliamentary party, which has to be signed by 18 TDs to be debated.
Rebel FF TD Sean Power yesterday said Mr Cowen would step down after the Budget. But Mr Cowen said he has "given no such indication to anybody, including Deputy Power".
Mr Power claimed on Kfm in Kildare that some ministers privately told him Mr Cowen would not lead the party into the election.