Belfast Telegraph

Cowen seeks support in party talks

Taoiseach Brian Cowen is continuing to consult with Fianna Fail colleagues in an effort to gauge whether he has enough support to lead the party into an election.

The embattled leader has been meeting and phoning TDs and senators over the last 48 hours with speculation that he could announce his decision as soon as Sunday.

Minister for Children Barry Andrews said he thought Mr Cowen would state his intention very quickly after the consultation ended. A spokesman for Fianna Fail confirmed the exercise was still ongoing on Saturday evening.

Mr Cowen offered disgruntled members of his parliamentary party the opportunity for one-to-one talks at a crunch meeting earlier this week.

The latest to openly question Mr Cowen's position is backbencher Noel O'Flynn, who has called for Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin to take over.

"I think it is time for Brian Cowen to consider his position and to resign as leader of Fianna Fail and I think what should happen then is that the parliamentary party should come in behind the candidature of Micheal Martin," the Cork North Central TD said after speaking with Mr Cowen.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin are also likely contenders if Mr Cowen does step down. Eamon O Cuiv, Minister for Social Protection, may also throw his hat into the ring.

Concerns over the Taoiseach's leadership came to a head this week after he was publicly grilled in the Dail on Wednesday on his contacts with disgraced Anglo Irish Bank boss Sean FitzPatrick.

Under pressure, he revealed the names of two other business chiefs who joined him and Mr FitzPatrick for a post-golf match dinner in Druid's Glen - Gary McGann, chief executive of Smurfit Kappa, who was a director of Anglo at the time, and Alan Gray, an economist appointed to the Central Bank board by Mr Cowen.

But a no confidence vote in the Government, tabled by the Labour party, was temporarily blocked on Friday when Government Chief Whip John Curran refused to free up Dail time.

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