Belfast Telegraph

Fianna Fail may face bitter leadership fight

The Republic’s leading political party is facing the prospect of a divisive leadership battle — if Taoiseach Brian Cowen is persuaded to resign.

Irish Finance Minister Brian Lenihan won't be given a clear run for the leadership of the party by his rivals, it is understood.

But none of the Fianna Fail heavyweights being mooted as replacements for the Taoiseach are willing to head up a heave against Mr Cowen.

The Finance Minister is believed to be willing to become Taoiseach, despite his cancer treatment.

And his junior minister brother Conor said yesterday Fianna Fail was “very damaged” by the controversy surrounding Mr Cowen's late-night drinking session and poor interview on a morning radio show last week.

But Dermot Ahern, Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin are all also be expected to throw their hats into the ring, cabinet sources said last night.

Mr Ahern, in particular, is understood to still be annoyed at the way the leadership changeover two years ago was handled by Mr Cowen and former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern. The Justice Minister has never hidden his leadership ambitions.

Mr Martin would also be expected to declare, even if he knew he might not get it on this occasion, and Ms Hanafin would also be obliged to express an interest in the job to signal intent for the future.

The prospects of Mr Lenihan being given a clear run were dismissed within the party.

Fianna Fail figures predicted there would be four nominations — even if not all the contenders went on to an eventual vote.

Mr Lenihan played down suggestions he was putting himself forward to replace the under-pressure Mr Cowen, saying the leadership issue has not yet arisen.

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