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Lise Hand: Three mute-ineers left dumbstruck by King Cowen's roar

Assassins, my hat. When it comes to staging a heave, the top brass in Fianna Fail make Richard Bruton look like a ninja.

John Gormley has admitted to being "no Sherlock Holmes", but perhaps he could pick up his magnifying-glass and find the Missing Ministerial Mutineers.

Since Garglegate last September, the background musak in the corridors of Leinster House has been a low-grade but constant muttering against the beleaguered Brian Cowen.

On occasion one of a small-but-determined posse of disgruntled backbenchers has pleaded for a general to sound the bugle for a charge.

But these generals stayed hunkered in their bunkers through all sorts of catastrophes. Two even raised the white flag, with Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern announcing they were withdrawing from the fray.

And then, last Sunday, the Seanie FitzPatrick doodlebugs began their screeching descent onto the hapless heads of the Soldiers of Destiny. And down the rockets rained for four relentless days, ensuring the words 'Anglo' and 'Taoiseach' were welded like toxic twins. The troops sank into dismay.

But then a faint, very faint bugle sounded. Out in Killiney on Monday night, a cock crowed three times. One of the generals-in-waiting, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin, thrice evaded expressing confidence in the commander-in-chief.

And in the Dail on Wednesday, as Cowen twisted and turned in the Anglo wind, the stony faces on his front bench looked like Mount Rushmore -- as he revealed that another Anglo individual, Gary McGann, was at the Druids Glen dinner.

It looked like the Ministerial Mutineers were strapping on their swords. Loyal lieutenants spoke quietly against him, more in sorrow than in anger.

By mid-morning yesterday, rumours about ministerial manoeuvres had grown into full-blown conjecture, tattle, scuttlebutt and gossip.

Reporters, deputies and senators traded tidbits of information. But where were the generals? Brian Lenihan had gone to Stormont, Micheal Martin was due at the Young Scientists' exhibition, and Mary Hanafin was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they were all in a room together, co-ordinating their attack.

The sense of things coming to a head continued to grow as the morning passed. Fianna Fail's parliamentary party meeting was postponed until 3pm. Brian Lenihan was hastening back from Belfast; Micheal wasn't going to the RDS.

By 3pm a large posse of press was milling expectantly around the steps of Leinster House.

And then snippets started filtering out. Brian was going nowhere. He would stay in charge and any or all of the troops were free to consult him.

A few of the die-hard rebels spoke up -- but not a peep out of the Mute Mutineers. Micheal, Brian and Mary all failed to throw down a gauntlet.

The knives it seemed were all made of rubber.

Just before 5pm, Chief Whip John Curran confirmed Cowen "would lead the party into the election". And the Brian showed up on the telly himself, telling his Missing Ministerial Mutineers come and get me, lads, if you have the bottle.

"There is no vacancy, there is no probationary period, I am the leader of the party."

Is it over? Who knows? Brian insisted there were no more forgotten close encounters of the Anglo kind. "I didn't meet or see Sean FitzPatrick since that time," he insisted.

He better be right, for one more Anglo doodlebug could prove fatal to the Taoiseach -- and a godsend to the dithering mutineers.

Irish Independent