Ministers shy away from Cowen heave as the Budget looms

Kevin Doyle

BRIAN Cowen is safe -- at least until after the Budget.

No senior ministers want to unseat the Taoiseach in advance of the brutal €3bn-plus cuts on the way in the Budget.

After that Cowen's days are numbered -- with Brian Lenihan, Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin all in the running.

Lacklustre Justice Minister Dermot Ahern is set to be the unlikely kingmaker.

Ministers are also conscious that Mr Cowen still has a good reputation abroad -- despite Garglegate.

His removal now could further weaken the economy and affect international sentiment.

Disgruntled Fianna Fail TDs are determined to keep fuelling the controversy in the hope Mr Cowen will fall on his own sword.

A rump of backbenchers have been in contact over the week to circulate the message: "Keep at it, keep the uncertainty going".

The unhappy TDs have been buoyed by reports that Finance Minister Mr Lenihan may be open to taking over the leadership -- although his spokesperson has tried to quell the speculation.

It comes as his aunt, Mary O'Rourke claimed that the minister's "thinking at this time" is that he would take up the job if it were a simple coronation.


However, she suggested that he would not be in favour of a battle involving himself, Micheal Martin, Dermot Ahern and Mary Hanafin.

Ms O'Rourke said that TDs were now gripped by a "common fear" about Mr Cowen's leadership.

"My belief is that it is Brian Cowen's decision if he wants to go," she said, adding that nobody wanted to lead a heave.

"Most people believe that a heave is unwarranted and is not a natural way of dealing with a very good person ... neither do they want to lose their seats and that is the common fear that is gripping people," the Longford/Westmeath TD said.

Her comments come as sources close to Science Minister Conor Lenihan tried to play down a statement he made suggesting that the Taoiseach will have "to take responsibility for this situation and take whatever decision he feels is best for the country and secondly and less importantly the party."

It has been suggested that this was Mr Lenihan's way of going for "Cowen's jugular" but a source said today that this was not the case.

Mr Lenihan was not available for comment today but a source said that the statement was taken "out of context".

Mr Cowen is still hoping that the controversy surrounding his leadership will blow over before the Dail returns on September 29.

However, the Herald understands that a number of backbenchers are intent on keeping the row raging.

Senior Fianna Fail figures now believe that it is only a matter of time before they have a new leader but they are desperate to ensure that the transition doesn't spilt the party.

Others believe that a change of leader will ultimately lead to a change of government. One said: "That much upheaval will cause an election and that will be the end for more than Cowen."