THE Green Party is set to stand by Taoiseach Brian Cowen even as his own ministers desert him.
John Gormley has described revelations about the Taoiseach's golfing partnership with disgraced Anglo Irish Bank boss Sean FitzPatrick as "golfgate".
Ahead of a Green Party think-in today he told that the golf revelations were "regrettable" but "primarily Fianna Fail matters".
"The Government will have to continue until after the finance bill, it's as simple as that," he said.
The comments came as Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin refused three times to express confidence in the Taoiseach.
And Mr Gormley did hint that he believed Mr Cowen's leadership was under severe threat even before the election.
"The last time we had such a think-in I was answering questions on 'garglegate' and now I'm going to be answering questions on 'golfgate'," he said.
"So from that perspective it is very regrettable because we want to focus on policy."
Battling for his political career today Mr Cowen moved to "utterly refute any suggestions of impropriety" arising out of revelations in a new book on Sean FitzPatrick.
Members of the Cabinet are understood to be furious that Mr Cowen played golf with FitzPatrick in July 2008 -- just two months before the bank guarantee was introduced.
And at her own election convention in Dun Laoghaire last night, Ms Hanafin struggled to show any significant support for the Taoiseach.
Asked three times if Mr Cowen had her full confidence, Ms Hanafin refused to express full support in him to lead Fianna Fail into the next election.
"If Brian Cowen is my leader leading into the election, I'll go with that," she said.
Speaking about the fresh controversy surrounding the relationship between the Taoiseach and Mr FitzPatrick, Ms Hanafin said: "It's the last thing you want. It's the last thing you want at the beginning of the year."
Sources close to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan say that he is also extremely unhappy with the developing situation.
However, there is no sign of leadership favourite Micheal Martin to make any move against Mr Cowen in advance of the election.
Green Party leader had a telephone conversation with the Taoiseach last night and will attend a party think-in in Malahide before the new Dail term begins tomorrow.
Ahead of that, he told the Herald: "The fact of the matter is there's going to be a finance bill. The country needs a finance bill. That's the bottom line. The country could be in deep difficulty if that doesn't go through."
In his statement last night, Mr Cowen said that "no discussions" about the problems at Anglo Irish Bank took place on the golf course in Druids Glen.
"It was a social outing in full public view. There was nothing untoward, no hidden or secret agenda and no concessions, favours or interventions requested or granted," he said.
"Certain people are drawing inferences for political and other motives, they are malicious, unfounded and have no basis in fact."