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Cowen set to win as Lenihan's backing sways vote behind embattled Taoiseach

BRIAN Cowen is desperately hoping that TDs who have promised their support will follow through in a secret ballot.

A battling Taoiseach today declaring: "There isn't a tsunami against me."

Sources close to current leader told the Herald that he believes his majority is as great as 15 votes, including the support of Brian Lenihan.

The Finance Minister is expected to sway a significant vote in Mr Cowen's direction, with his allies privately revealing that he still harbours his own ambitions of becoming party leader -- but not until after the General Election.

One of Mr Cowen's backbench detractors admitted to the Herald today that if Mr Lenihan was not willing to depose the Taoiseach then it was "game over" for Micheal Martin's heave. Late last night, Transport Minister Noel Dempsey gave Mr Cowen a ringing endorsement but Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin refused to be drawn on where her vote will be cast.

Both Mr Cowen and Mr Martin were putting their final plea to the party's 71 TDs today with the Taoiseach saying: "I believe in the secrecy of the ballot.

"Everyone is going to put their position either publicly or through the secretary of the ballot."

He claimed on Newstalk Breakfast that there would never have been 18 signatories necessary to place a motion of no confidence against him.

But added: "I don't suggest for a moment that it was unanimous view which you wouldn't have in any party."

Mr Cowen said that tonight's vote would bring "clarity" to his position.

In his final appeal to backbenchers, Micheal Martin declared: "I said to myself I'll be damned if I'm going to run in a campaign that has no fire in the belly."

The Foreign Affair Minister said his doubts about Brian Cowen's leadership accumulated "over time".

He said how the IMF "coming into the country" was presented and managed "was a watershed moment".

"The fundamental question facing us is would we be better entering the campaign and beyond with a new leader at this stage and reluctantly I've come to the conclusion that, yes, we would," he said.


"What is the core issue? It's about the future of the Fianna Fail party, it's very survival," Mr Martin insisted.

The minister's resignation offer remains on the table but Mr Cowen is unlikely to accept it, regardless of the outcome.

Pledging his support to the Taoiseach, Noel Dempsey said there "isn't a more decent, honest, upright politician in Dail Eireann than Brian Cowen".

He added: "Yes he's been criticised because maybe he hasn't communicated well enough with the public -- do you know why? -- because he was too busy doing the job that he felt had to be done for this country."

The minister added that it would "surprise" him if Brian Lenihan didn't back the Taoiseach.

However, Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin has repeatedly refused to declare confidence in the Taoiseach. She has been a critic of the Taoiseach in the past and many TDs interpret her silence as a further condemnation of his leadership.

"I'm not in the business of trying to influence other members of the party. I have my vote," she said.

The Dun Laoghaire TD did admit that she still harbours leadership ambitions and will contest a vote if Mr Cowen is forced to resign.

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