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Timeline: The Fianna Fáil heave – how it unfolded

A timeline of events leading to yesterday’s Fianna Fáil parliamentary party vote on confidence in Cowen’s leadership.

Image: Niall Carson/PA Wire

RUMOURS OF A FIANNA FÁIL leadership heave began late last Wednesday night after Cowen answered questions in the Dáil about his contacts with former Anglo Irish Bank chairman Sean Fitzpatrick.

Wednesday, 12 January: Cowen’s parliamentary party colleagues were reportedly not happy to hear new revelations about the dinner Cowen had with Fitzpatrick in July 2008.

Responding to questions from opposition TDs, the Taoiseach said former Central Bank director Alan Gray and former Anglo director Gary McGann had also been present at the dinner. Cowen and Gray insist matters at Anglo were not discussed.

Rumours of a heave began emerging around midnight that night.

Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney joined in the speculation that evening, tweeting:

Very strong rumours about unrest in FF and a potential motion of no confidence tomorrow – hard to know if it will happen or just speculation.

13 January: The push for a heave appeared to have dampened overnight, and RTÉ’s Philip Boucher-Hayes may have captured the mood of some Fianna Fáil TDs when he tweeted:

Plots hatched at night in the comfortable anonymity of darkness rarely seem such a good idea in the cold light of day.

Mary O’Rourke TD downplayed heave rumours in a Newstalk radio interview later that morning. Speaking at around 8.30am ahead of a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting later that day, O’Rourke said she thought it was too late for the party to change leaders given the proximity of an election.

Fianna Fáil was due to hold its first weekly parliametary party meeting since the Dáil returned from its Christmas break at noon that day, however, the meeting was postponed to 3pm.  A party spokesperson told TheJournal.ie that there was “no significance” in the change as these meetings are often rescheduled, but it sparked rumours that the heave was building momentum again.

Newstalk’s Páraic Gallagher reported on Lunchtime that Cowen had asked for the meeting to be postponed because meetings were running over time, but Gallagher says he heard that the heave push picked up again over the morning and some senior ministers had asked the Taoiseach to resign and he was possibly delaying the meeting to consider his options.

At around 2pm, Kevin Doyle of the Herald sent a Tweet saying:

Leinster House is buzzing. Hard 2 know what to believe but not a single FF source is saying that Cowen will fight on.

At 3pm, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore announced his party would table a motion of no confidence in the government and said it was “make up your mind time” for the Green Party, Independents and Fianna Fáil backbenchers who were critical of the government.

Gilmore’s statement said: “I expect that in accordance with the normal parliamentary practice and procedure the government will now allow time for a debate on this motion next week, or alternatively will table a motion of confidence in itself.”

By 3.30pm, reports were emerging from Leinster House that Brian Cowen was not resigning as Taoiseach. Instead, he said he would meet with his parliamentary party colleagues to discuss their opinions on his leadership of the party.

7pm: Fianna Fáil’s coalition partners the Green Party released a short statement saying it noted “Mr Cowen’s decision to consult his parliamentary party members about the matter”, but otherwise did not discuss the leadership issue.

15 January: Cowen continued to meet with Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators to discuss the party leadership.

16 January: Cowen released a statement saying he intends to remain as party leader and will table a motion of confidence in his position as party leader at a party meeting on Tuesday:

Having consulted with my party colleagues, and having reflected on the current and future challenges, I have come to the conclusion that it I should continue to lead the party. I believe this is in the best interest of stability of the government, the country and our party.

Those who know me, know that I am not motivated by personal ambition. My decision is my deeply held belief having considered all issues and concerns brought to my attention in recent days.

I believe that any issue regarding my leadership of Fianna Fail should be resolved immediately. I have therefore decided to place a motion of confidence in my leadership before next Tuesday’s parliamentary party meeting. The vote will be by secret ballot.

8pm: Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin held a press conference stating he would challenge Brian Cowen’s continued leadership, by voting against him in Tuesday’s confidence motion.

The Foreign Affairs minister claimed the “very survival of the party is at stake”. He said he had been approached by party colleagues about trying to replace Cowen as leader for the past 12-18 months, but did not name names. He said he had offered his resignation, but Cowen had not accepted it.

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The Green Party simultaneously released a statement saying it was standing back to allow Fianna Fáil “order its own affairs”.

17 January: Brian Cowen and Micheál Martin appeared on a number of national news programmes on radio and TV to pose their own viewpoint on the leadership challenge, without going head-to-head on the issue. Martin insisted the leadership debate was good for the party, and Cowen insisted he was best person to lead the party going forward into an election.

Although a significant portion of the party would not declare their intentions ahead of the confidence vote, some came out and said they would oppose the motion and seek a new party leader. Willie O’Dea, Conor Lenihan, Micheal Moynihan and Billy Kelleher said they would vote against Cowen.

18 January: Ministers Brian Lenihan and Dermot Ahern pledged their support for Cowen, suggesting that the Taoiseach stood a good chance of retaining his party leadership.

The parliamentary party began its meeting at 5.30pm, and discussed other business before addressing the leadership issue and voting in a secret ballot. Only the party’s 71 TDs were allowed to vote. At 7pm, the meeting broke up briefly for TDs to vote in the Dáil.

9:10pm: After hours of discussion on the confidence motion, Fianna Fáil announced that the parliamentary party had voted their confidence in Cowen as party leader. Emerging from the meeting, chief whip John Curran said the tally would not be made public.

Speaking afterwards, Cowen said he had accepted Martin’s resignation from cabinet, but he and Martin did not think any differently of each other. He said they would remain good colleagues into the future.

Defending the decision not to release the margin of votes, Cowen said he wanted to make sure everyone had the opportunity to express themselves fully by promising a secret ballot.

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