Belfast Telegraph

Leadership race steps up a gear

The race for the leadership of Fianna Fail stepped up a gear with Finance Minister Brian Lenihan promising to fight the opposition in every corner of the country.

Respected Cabinet members Mary Hanafin and Eamon O Cuiv also set out their visions for the future of the ruling party after Taoiseach Brian Cowen dramatically resigned as party leader.

However, former foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin, who resigned from the Cabinet after a failed heave against Mr Cowen, is still a frontrunner to fill the post. He has the support of around a dozen colleagues.

The rebel TD insisted he has "the energy, passion and commitment" to lead Fianna Fail into the general election, and develop policies for the future.

The new leader of Fianna Fail, the eighth since the party was founded in 1926, will be elected by secret ballot on Wednesday.

Mr Lenihan was attacked by backbenchers in recent days, who said he had plotted for 10 months to overthrow Mr Cowen only to back out at the last minute during a confidence vote.

In his pitch for leadership, Mr Lenihan put Fine Gael and Labour on notice that the election campaign "will be no walkover", and said Fianna Fail will fight them in every corner of the country and in national debate.

He said: "I am determined that after the election, on the opposition benches if that is to be the choice of the people, to hold the Government to account in a coherent and an effective way. It is not in our national interest that a Fine Gael Labour Government with a bloated majority be marked with a weak, inexperienced and disjointed opposition."

Ms Hanafin, who voted against the Taoiseach as party leader in a motion of confidence last week, said Mr Cowen's resignation showed there is a difference between being leader of the country and party. She said: "Our core function is to be in government, to be in opposition, to be articulate members of the Dail (parliament) but also to reflect what the issues are in society. If we're looking at a party for something that's new and fresh and a completely different image well then I think I fit that bill."

Mr O Cuiv, grandson of Eamon De Valera, founder of Fianna Fail, the country's first Taoiseach and third president of Ireland, also put his name in the hat for the post. "My vision always has been about people, about the standard of living," insisted the social protection minister, who recently oversaw welfare budget cuts. "But also I think we need to look at the wider community, the social values, and one thing that has always been close to my heart is the whole concept of social cohesion where people feel equal and are equal."


From Belfast Telegraph