Belfast Telegraph

Cowen to fight it out with rebels

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is set to go toe-to-toe with rebel ministers in the fight for leadership of his ruling Fianna Fail party.

Both Mr Cowen and number one challenger, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin, claim they have the numbers to force a change.

The Taoiseach secured the backing of Transport Minister Noel Dempsey but two other senior Cabinet colleagues refused to declare their hand.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin - both potential leadership candidates - will reveal their voting intentions on Tuesday.

Mr Cowen said Fianna Fail was in a fight for public support and that he was the fighter it needs.

He was also adamant he can survive the vote of 71 TDs who decide his political fate at a crucial parliamentary party meeting.

"I remain confident obviously of the outcome," Mr Cowen said. "I think my decision to have a confidence vote will enable us to put this matter to rest once and for all for the foreseeable future. From my point of view, it is clearly the case that the settled view of the party is that I should lead Fianna Fail."

More than half the voting TDs declared their hand and although up to 20 would not discuss their intentions or did not return calls, Mr Cowen insisted he had the numbers.

Mr Martin - the Taoiseach's main challenger - claimed a change in leader would put fire in the belly of party workers and supporters, saying there had not been a "heave" in the traditional political sense but that senior party members wanted Mr Cowen to move aside.

"I have made my decision and I haven't sought support from others," Mr Martin said. "I would be aware of Cabinet ministers who would have similar views but it's for them to make their views known."

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