Belfast Telegraph

Cowen rift 'has damaged party'

Rebel Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin has revealed that his ruling Fianna Fail party has been damaged by discontent with Taoiseach Brian Cowen for almost a year.

Mr Martin, who has led the challenge to Mr Cowen, said there has been sniping among members over the leadership question since last spring.

"Over the last 10 months really there have been different sort of on the ground voices, within the underground, within Leinster House, within the party, that I think have had a destabilising effect," he said. "I think perhaps a vote of confidence should have happened earlier in that respect because it might have put a lot of that to bed and it might have clarified the situation."

Mr Martin refused to accept there was a heave against the Taoiseach but claimed the secret ballot on a motion of confidence was a more civilised way of doing politics.

"I have to emphasise this is not about the classic heave ... It's not in that context," he said. "What people said to me is 'Micheal, if somebody does not do something here there would not be a party to lead after the next general election'. And I hope it does not come to that."

But he went on to accept that by publicly going against Mr Cowen and offering to resign he was reflecting the views of other ministers and TDs on the leadership.

In an interview on RTE Radio, he added: "This cult of the leader, and while it is important one has stability, I think it is equally important is that you have a freer situation where people can actually articulate their positions. I think it is healthier than all the back-sniping and behind-doors stuff that has been going on for the last nine months within the party which I think was far more destabilising than what is happening now."

Former defence minister Willie O'Dea, who was forced to resign from Cabinet last February and was a long-time supporter of the Taoiseach, said he was now an electoral liability.

"The feedback I'm getting from the people I'm speaking to, the overwhelming feedback is, that with Brian Cowen leading us into the election campaign there is an unacceptably high risk of electoral annihilation and of the country being left without a proper opposition after the general election," Mr O'Dea said.

Mr Martin's future is unclear if Mr Cowen should win the vote. The minister's resignation remains on the table but either way, the Government has only three months to run and faces its worst ever electoral result as it sits at just 14% in the opinion polls.

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