TAOISEACH Brian Cowen was increasingly isolated from his rank and file TDs last night as backbench rebels vowed to end his time in power once and for all.
And the disillusionment has spread far wider than a usual disgruntled few, with previously loyal and supportive deputies claiming Mr Cowen's leadership has to be ended.
But Mr Cowen threw down the gauntlet to the dissidents by saying there are mechanisms in Fianna Fail to remove him as leader -- meaning triggering a motion of no confidence at the parliamentary party.
And, flanked by his Fianna Fail Cabinet colleagues in a show of unity, he last night insisted he wants to continue as Taoiseach. A total of 18 TDs need to support a motion of no-confidence to get it on the agenda of a parliamentary party meeting.
But only five TDs publicly called on Mr Cowen to resign yesterday, while dozens more privately said his days as leader were numbered but stressed nothing could happen until the Budget is passed.
Mary O'Rourke said the majority of backbenchers wanted to see the Budget passed.
Dublin North's Darragh O'Brien said he would consider walking away from politics if the Budget failed, claiming people needed to show "backbone" and see it through.
The weekly meeting of the parliamentary party this evening will see Mr Cowen confronted by those demanding his resignation but there are no formal moves as yet to begin a heave.
"We're waiting until this meeting," one TD said. "It doesn't matter if we have enough to table a confidence motion. And it doesn't matter if there are six or 60 of us. He'll be told."
Among those who called on Mr Cowen to resign were TDs usually critical of his leadership such as John McGuinness, Sean Power, Tom Kitt, Chris Andrews and Noel O'Flynn.
Others -- such as Ms O'Rourke and Michael Kennedy -- are calling for a special meeting to discuss Mr Cowen's leadership, with Ms O'Rourke saying a vote may eventually be taken if one is needed.
Other TDs also voiced hope that Mr Cowen would step down without putting up a fight, but were waiting on detail to emerge from last night's meeting of Fianna Fail Cabinet ministers.
TDs were spread all over the country yesterday since the Dail was not sitting and were calling each other all day to gauge opinion within the party.
Some were floating ideas such as keeping Mr Cowen on as Taoiseach for a period of time but replacing him as party leader and allowing the new leader to fight an election.
One of the younger crop of TDs, also loyal to Mr Cowen, said he was more focused on getting his posters up in his constituency and claimed it is now "irrelevant" who leads them into the election.
"It's finished, he has to go," another rural deputy said.
Kilkenny TD Bobby Aylward -- usually a staunch supporter -- said the Taoiseach had been damaged by his handling of the arrival of the IMF.