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Lenihan's cancer the main reason Cowen still in power -- TDs

BRIAN Cowen might not be Taoiseach if his Finance Minister Brian Lenihan was in good health, backbenchers have claimed.

As the Government party grapples with internal fighting over the Taoiseach's position, sources have told the Herald that there is unlikely to be an immediate move against Mr Cowen.

The Herald has also learned that disgruntled backbenchers are holding almost weekly meeting in Leinster House's AV Room where they discuss policy and invite guest speakers.

In recent weeks, the speakers at the 'Lemass Forum' have included Garda representatives and several union chiefs.

A growing number of Fianna Fail backbenchers are speaking out against the party's leader, but they are some way off convincing a Minister to take a serious challenge.

A source said: "The big obstacle is the lack of clarity around Brian Lenihan's health. If he was well and up for it there would absolutely definitely have been a move by now."

Mr Lenihan announced shortly after Christmas that doctors had found cancerous cells in his pancreas.

Despite the extremely serious condition he has shown huge determination to continue in office and has received plaudits from all sides of the Dail.

Yesterday, former Minister of State John McGuinness stunned his Fianna Fail colleagues by publicly calling for Mr Cowen to "consider his position".

The Carlow-Kilkenny TD said the Taoiseach had been given every chance to prove himself and it was now time "to look beyond" his leadership.

Other backbenchers have privately expressed equal disappointment in the Taoiseach but said there is no obvious candidate to replace him.

"The big difficulty is who would the party crystallise around," explained one backbencher.

The unhappy have compiled a list of grievances with Mr Cowen's performance.

In particular they are disappointed with his public appearances and apparent lack of passion for the job.

"He seems to have no energy and no enthusiasm for the job and that showed in his Cabinet reshuffle," one TD explained.

Members also feel that they are being kept out of the loop when it comes to decision-making. "Cowen tells us nothing," they said.

"For example on the Anglo pay rises, he said it was Labour playing mood music and didn't seem to accept that ordinary people were furious."