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Wanted: new FF leader, must have energy and vision

Another fine mess you've got yourself into, Mr Cowen.

First Garglegate. Now Golf-gate. Not to mention your disappearing act on the run-in to the IMF/EU bailout.

Brian Cowen seems incapable of keeping himself, and by association, his party and Government out of unnecessary strife.

What is wrong with the man? Mr Cowen seems to operate on a need-to-know basis. Well, I've got news for him. WE need to know. He presents himself as a squeaky clean guy and I don't doubt that. That being the case then, why the secrecy? Why expose the party he purports to have so much regard for to such ridicule?

The agony of watching the painful extraction of information from between his lips during leaders' questions last Wednesday was like having a ringside seat in a dental surgery during a root canal treatment. The cleaner he came the more disagreeable the odour.

The first week of the new Dail term kicked off with the Taoiseach on the rack over his fraternizing with Sean FitzPatrick and friends and ended with him on the rack over his leadership of Fianna Fail.

To add insult to injury, he was capable enough of facing the public through a television news interview when his own hide was on the line last Thursday. But completely incapable of facing the public when we were entitled to information and explanation during the IMF/EU bailout.

He pleads innocence of any wrongdoing in his dealings with Sean FitzPatrick and his friends on the golf course or at the dinner table. And for what it's worth, I don't believe there was any great conspiracy or scheme hatched between himself and Sean FitzPatrick on the bailout of Anglo, but that's not the point. The point is that he displayed, at best, a monumental lack of judgement in not immediately disclosing the full extent of his contacts with members of Anglo Irish Bank. Just as he displayed a monumental lack of judgement and appalling arrogance in his failure to communicate with the public during, and on the lead-up to the bailout. Where were his TV interviews then? Where were his explanations and clarifications of the situation then? He and Brian Lenihan allowed senior ministers to make eejits of themselves in public on that occasion, claiming there would be no bailout.

The blunt reality is that Fianna Fail can no longer afford to have Brian Cowen as party leader. The pity is that those who have aspirations of becoming leader don't have the bottle to confront him

on the matter and he knows it. He has put it up to them with his 'come and get me lads' attitude. He is playing divide and conquer in his own interest not in the interest of the party.

The reticent behaviour of potential leaders doesn't argue well for their capabilities to lead the party. Let's face it, in present difficult circumstances, it's not exactly a plum job or a cushy number. The likelihood is that the next leader of Fianna Fail will not see himself or herself in the post of Taoiseach. Well you know, lads, (and lassies, of course) welcome to the real world.

Leadership of political parties is not only about being in power. Yes, the aim of all political parties is to be in power, but leadership is also about building the party, inspiring the membership, providing good opposition in parliament, being an alternative voice to the government of the day. That is what a democracy is about.

Does Fianna Fail have any real politicians within its ranks? A confident, charismatic figure, an inspired energetic organiser, someone with true commitment to democracy, to the party?

Brian Lenihan, Mary Hanafin and Micheal Martin's names have been bandied about as potential candidates. As far as I can see they are not worth their weight in salt. Leadership is not for the faint-hearted. There have been umpteen opportunities, indeed valid reasons, to challenge the leadership since Garglegate in September and not one of them has shown the bottle to speak up.

There is never a good time for a leadership challenge. Heaves are a messy business, but judging by Brian Cowen's present attitude, a heave it will have to be.

Stop sitting on the fence waiting for the perfect opportunity. It's not going to happen. You have to take the bull by the horns. More importantly, you have to have the courage to take the bull by the horns. Yes, you will lead Fianna Fail into a long spell in opposition but you also have an exceptional opportunity to build a new Fianna Fail. An opportunity to revamp the whole structure and thinking within the party. To create a party for the future, a New Fianna Fail.

Not since 1937 has Fianna Fail re-positioned itself and re-structured itself within the electoral system. Don't you think it's about time to take stock again? Take your head out of the sand, lads, the game is up, you've got to move.

What's left of the rank and file within the party need encouragement, goals for the future, something to work towards, something to strive for. They need leadership.

Are you going to sit back and allow the party to disband by default, just because you're afraid of putting your necks on the line? The backside has fallen out of the party anyway so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The Donegal by-election has shown that there is a wealth of excellent potential candidates out there available to Fianna Fail.

People who are not afraid to fight their corner in an impressive and coherent way, even when the odds are momentously stacked against them.

Brian O Domhnaill would put those with notions of becoming leader to shame. He got out there and fought his corner well. He showed courage and tenacity in the face of adversity. It's time for the rest of you to follow suit.

Sunday Independent