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Fionnan Sheahan: National interest never entered into equation


In the midst of Brian Cowen's 'consultation process' on his own leadership, the Taoiseach had to take time out from talking to his backbenchers to hold a rather important meeting.

Intel Ireland's general manager Eamonn Sinnott arrived into Government Buildings on Friday morning to discuss the multi-national company's expansion plans.

Intel will employ an extra 200 technology workers with a €375m redevelopment of its plant in Leixlip, Co Kildare.

But affairs of State have taken a back seat for the Government as the leadership of Fianna Fail is resolved. Fianna Fail has decided to separate the running of the party from the running of the country.

Cowen tried to take command of the situation yesterday by announcing he had decided to stay on as leader and was putting down a motion of confidence

Without any movement from one of the so-called leadership contenders, Cowen appeared to be in the clear.

The Taoiseach would always occupy the high ground when putting down the motion himself.

His ardent group of supporters would always back him regardless and a lot of the middle ground would be reluctant to vote against their party leader feeling a leadership change is either too late or divisive.

Cowen does not believe it is feasible to resign as leader of Fianna Fail while continuing as Taoiseach.

Micheal Martin does believe it is a credible position for the party to adopt.

Martin does not have confidence in Cowen to continue as leader of Fianna Fail, but will continue to serve in Cabinet as the Taoiseach declined his resignation offer.

Martin's position is weakened by his failure to stand down from Cabinet.

He doesn't have confidence in the Taoiseach, yet Cowen still managed to persuade him to stay on in office as a minister.

The mass of contradictions merely adds to the mess of the leadership issue.

Cowen says he made his decision on the basis of what was in the national interest.

Throughout this debate about Cowen's leadership, it's what is in Fianna Fail's interest that is at heart.

During his consultation, Cowen asked his TDs if they felt the party would win more seats if somebody else was leader.

To any outside observer, that would appear to be a rhetorical question.

Given Cowen's low satisfaction rating and his direct attachment to the management of the economy over the past seven years, arguably anybody else in Fianna Fail would have more appeal to the voters going into the election (bar Ivor Callely).

Martin is making an appeal to the hearts of Fianna Fail TDs. He says "the very survival of the party is at stake" and points to the lack of any organisation or strategy heading into the general election campaign.

The Foreign Affairs Minister has made his views known on the need for structural reform of the party after the forthcoming general election and has become something of a self-styled hero of the grassroots annoyed at seeing their party go down the tubes.

Over Christmas, Martin told the Irish Independent that Fianna Fail would need a "radical" overhaul after the general election.

He set out what can be described as a leadership manifesto, pointing to the need for reform through a "fundamental review" of Fianna Fail's policies, organisation and funding.

"I think the Taoiseach will lead us into the next election. Now, in the aftermath of the election -- it depends on how we do obviously, but the polls are not good -- and if we are in opposition, clearly the opportunity presents itself for a radical look at the party.

"Not just the leadership issue, but the party generally, in terms of policy platform, in terms of the organisation, structure, communications, financing and so on," he said.

The minister said up to 80pc of contributions to Fianna Fail were not corporate donations.

"In fact, we have a very poor corporate donations (record) in recent times, but we got a bad name around it and other parties took corporate donations, but quietly. They didn't have a tent as such, but I think all that was bad for the party," he said.

After the election, Martin said there would be room from grassroots level up for a "fundamental review" of Fianna Fail and he had leadership ambitions.

"Yeah, if it arises in future, my name is there. My original study was in political organisation and all that area, so I would be interested in contributing and helping the party in whatever capacity I am in," he said.

He vehemently denied he had a pact with Cowen to hold off on a leadership bid until after the general election.

Martin's timeline has clearly been advanced over recent weeks. Fianna Fail came sleep walking into the new year.

There was no indication of any overall plan on Cowen's part on fighting the general election campaign. The exodus of TDs announcing their retirements on a weekly basis merely added to the sense of defeat.

The party's TDs who are staying on to fight have felt there is no coherent strategy to limit the losses in the election.

Many TDs have been openly bitching about the candidate selection strategy in their constituency and beyond.

Martin feels now there won't be a party to lead after the general election, so he has to make his move now.

Cowen seems determined to stay on the bridge of the ship as it goes down.

Irish Independent