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Backbenchers could still plan coup to oust Cowen

Fianna Fáil backbenchers aren’t happy about how the cabinet crisis was managed – and the knives could still be out.

Less than 48 hours after winning a crucial vote of confidence, Brian Cowen could face a renewed heave against him.
Less than 48 hours after winning a crucial vote of confidence, Brian Cowen could face a renewed heave against him.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

BACKBENCH MEMBERS of the Fianna Fáil party may be planning a renewed heave against leader Brian Cowen, furious at his handling of the cabinet crisis this morning, TheJournal.ie has learned.

A senior source within the government this afternoon said that members of the parliamentary party were frustrated by how they were not kept in the loop regarding Brian Cowen’s “so-called plan”, unveiled in the Dáil earlier, where Cowen assigned the six vacant briefs from the cabinet to current members of the Fianna Fáil front benches – leaving all but Brian Lenihan and the two Green ministers with two ministerial briefs to cover.

The plan to reshuffle the cabinet ahead of the election appeared to have been planned some time in advance, with Mary Harney saying she had tendered her resignation before last week’s leadership heave, and Tony Killeen this afternoon admitting he had expected to be removed from the cabinet after announcing his plans not to run in the next election.

“There’s been a huge disregard and a huge disrespect for the public,” the source said. “There’s been a major lack of management about the whole thing.

“People might question whether its possible to do anything about this”, the source added, explaining that backbench TDs were contemplating whether there was “the appetite to do anything about this”.

Alluding to the possibility of another motion of no confidence being brought against Cowen at Fianna Fáil level, the senior source added: “Is it a tactic to get 18 names? I don’t know.”

That scenario was, they added, “a possibility”, given how Cowen had been “terribly weakened” by the day’s events.

The continued unease came after junior minister Conor Lenihan told RTÉ he felt Cowen should resign as Taoiseach, saying Cowen’s “authority and credibility had been eroded”, and that many who had voted confidence in him now wished they had not done so.

The renewed attempts to oust Cowen from the Fianna Fáil leadership ahead of the general election come less than two days after Cowen won a crucial vote of confidence within the party ranks.

In the Dáil this morning, Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said gossip within Leinster House suggested that Cowen’s margin of victory has been as small as three votes, 37 to 34.

Meanwhile. the Green Party is continuing meetings of its parliamentary party this afternoon, amid continued speculation that the junior partners could still trigger an early general election by pulling out of power entirely.

Though Cowen’s announcement earlier that the six vacant briefs would be spread out among the seven remaining Fianna Fáil members of cabinet was an evident attempt to appease the Greens, who were uneasy about appointing new faces to the cabinet before the election, the Greens’ meetings continue, as the party considers its options.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland before the resignation of O’Keeffe, Paul Gogarty said he would (if an independent TD) vote against the introduction of five new ministers, and said that on “a scale of one to ten”, his disappointment and frustration ranked at 10.

Reports that Harney and Ahern had both offered their own resignations well in advance of the Fianna Fáil meeting on Tuesday – which voted confidence in Cowen as the party leader – meant that the reshuffle operation “smacked of jobs for the boys”.

John Gormley had told RTÉ’s Six One news last night – when there was just one cabinet vacancy – that he expected his party would be consulted before any ministry would be filled, but seemed uneasy about a wider cabinet reshuffle.

Poll: Do you want new ministers installed before an election?

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Gavan Reilly

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