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Fionnan Sheahan: Beleaguered leader challenges opponents to put up or shut up

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen attempted to take control of the Fianna Fail leadership crisis yesterday by putting it up to rebel TDs to vote him out.

Announcing he intended to stay on as party leader, Mr Cowen challenged the rebels to vote against a motion of confidence in his leadership.

After talking with most Fianna Fail TDs over recent days, Mr Cowen maintained he has enough support to win a secret ballot on his leadership.

The Taoiseach insisted he was remaining as leader of Fianna Fail "in the national interest" and he did not believe his party colleagues wanted a new leader.

"I do not believe it to be in the country's interests nor do I believe it to be the settled collective view of my colleagues in the parliamentary party," he said.

"Having one line of authority as a Taoiseach and a separate line of authority in political decision making as a leader of Fianna Fail is not in my view a good idea. It could lead to confusion and dilution of authority for the persons concerned," he added.

Mr Cowen evaded questions on whether any of his ministers had asked him to resign or if a minister who went against him would be sacked.

"As Taoiseach my total focus must remain with discharging my duties to the people," he said. "For Fianna Fail the party is important but the interests of the country are paramount."

He insisted he had not considered resigning. "No. I made no indication of resigning at any time as leader of the party," he said.

Mr Cowen said he had spoken with Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin a number of times over recent days and he remained an excellent friend and colleague.

Mr Cowen made a 10-minute statement on his future at a press conference in the Alexander Hotel in Dublin, flanked by Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Government Chief Whip John Curran. He denied revelations of his contacts with Anglo Irish Bank chiefs was the issue behind the leadership issue.

"The issue here is not about that at all," he said.


"All members of the parliamentary party acknowledge my good faith in relation to all of these issues. My standing in the party is not under question in any way," he added.

Mr Cowen said he was dispensing with procedure and putting forward a motion of confidence in himself at the next parliamentary party meeting to resolve the issue.

The Taoiseach accepted there was "an issue" over leadership but said that question should be resolved quickly.

Under normal Fianna Fail party rules, a leader would only face a vote on the leadership if a parliamentary party member put forward a motion of no confidence. He said he wanted to dispense with procedures and put forward the motion himself for a vote when TDs and Senators arrive at tomorrow's parliamentary party meeting.

Earlier the Tanaiste had confirmed Mr Cowen had completed his process of consulting party colleagues on his leadership.

"I believe that he has to the forefront of his mind this country, and naturally his party, and that the decision that he will be making will be in the best interests of this country," she told RTE.

But minister of state for Education Sean Haughey, who spoke to Mr Cowen on Thursday, said the Taoiseach was not plotting to remain in office.

"I found him in a very philosophical humour, very genuinely open to discussion and debate," he said. "I didn't get the impression of a man who was sitting there plotting to remain in power."

Irish Independent