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Sam Smyth: Bertie's bombshell brings FF to the brink of civil war

BERTIE Ahern is heading for a proxy showdown with Brian Cowen if his Dublin Central constituency organisation goes head-to-head against Fianna Fail HQ.

This appalling vista for the beleaguered senior party in the Government could easily follow Mr Ahern' s unprecedented and unprovoked attack on Mr Cowen.

The Fianna Fail organisation is still reeling from Mr Ahern' s deeply hurtful and damaging assault on the reputation of Mr Cowen, the current party leader.

And the question that has not yet been either addressed or answered is: Why did the former leader of Fianna Fail go all-out to destroy his successor, the current party leader?

Speculation and rumours surrounding Mr Ahern's extraordinary attack all go back to when he was forced to resign as Taoiseach and party leader.

Current ministers and other senior Fianna Fail sources are convinced that Mr Ahern blames his successor for making it impossible for him to continue after May 2008.

'Payback time' for Mr Cowen was delivered through an interview with Mr Ahern in the 'News of the World' last Sunday.

And further instalments will become due in the coming two months through the campaign for the General Election.

It is also no coincidence that he insulted Mr Cowen just days ahead of tomorrow night's deadline for Fianna Fail candidates to be nominated for Mr Ahern's Dublin Central constituency.

"Bertie wants to keep his control of the constituency organisation in St Luke's and he only wants candidates beholden to himself," said a source in the local Fianna Fail organisation.

And, according to the sources, Mr Ahern is prepared to repel any boarders from Fianna Fail headquarters if they try to frustrate his plans.

A number of his party workers in Dublin Central were also angry at the ex-Taoiseach directing insults at his successor.

"The mask slipped," said a member of the Fianna Fail organisation in Dublin Central last night. "And we saw the dark side of Bertie that he always kept hidden."

Senior party figures and ministers believe that Mr Ahern has never forgiven Mr Cowen for telling him it was time to go after his credibility had been terminally punctured.

"After he gave incredible evidence to the Mahon Tribunal about winning money on an unnamed horse, we had the appalling spectacle of a former secretary being dragged through her evidence and it was just too much," said one senior FF figure last night.

The source added: "A lot of people knew Grainne Carruth, a very decent young woman, and it was unbelievably cruel of Bertie to put her through that ordeal."

After meeting other senior ministers, it was agreed that Mr Cowen would approach Mr Ahern and ask him to step down as Taoiseach and leader of FF.

It was a very uncomfortable position for Mr Cowen, who had been praised as an exceptional talent and anointed as his successor by Mr Ahern.

But Mr Cowen did not shirk from the task.

Mr Ahern made the announcement on April 2, 2008, before travelling to Washington and London for major speaking engagements and he resigned just over a month later.

According to members who attended meetings of the Comhairle in St Luke's, some of his closest aides regularly lambasted the "culchies" running Fianna Fail and referred to Mr Cowen as "the boy from Offaly".

"They took every opportunity to attack Brian Cowen and the others from the country as culchies who didn't know how things were done in the city," according to a regular at St Luke's. "Bertie never insulted Cowen in public personally but the insults would not have happened without his say-so."

Although they knew the party's popularity had taken a dive, a number of secret polls taken in Dublin Central delivered the gravity of the situation to Mr Ahern.

A recent poll showed that Mr Ahern would not be successful if he ran for the Presidency but another was even more sobering -- he would struggle to be elected for the last seat if he ran for the Dail.

And after being a poll-topper and king-maker for his running mates, the prospect of an epic fight to take the last seat as the only Fianna Fail TD ruled out his running again.

Last night, a senior FF minister, who is not close to the Taoiseach, said that it would be difficult to disagree with Mr Ahern' s analysis of Mr Cowen's shortcomings as a leader, but that he shouldn't have said it.

Partisan friends of Mr Cowen's said that Mr Ahern had probably attacked the Taoiseach in the 'News of the World' because he liked money and they were his paymasters.

The self-serving opportunism of the attack actually drew some sympathy for Mr Cowen, an historically unpopular political leader but generally regarded as an honest man.

But the slipping of his mask has shown Mr Ahern cowering from the truth of his own reflection -- and in a very unflattering light.

Irish Independent