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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: December 8, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    Anonymously yours – FF style

    Harry McGee

    Whenever there are rumblings or mutterings or discontent within a party – and nowadays that’s Fianna Fail or Fine Gael folks - you get landed with the pleasurable (!) task of ringing around the backbenchers to try and sample the mood and divine the atmosphere. Today the task was to open the bonnet, have a look at the dipping indicator to see if Brian Cowen was so low on oil he was going to stall [permanently] at any moment.

    Of course, there are a couple of peculiar features to such an exercise. Most TDs go ‘off the record’ to tell you what they really think. Which is fine. But you will find that with some – not everyone of course – what they really think often has no relation to the public stance they may adopt. And sometimes it might not even have a tenous link with the opinion (off-the-record, of course) they might profer to you the following week.

    So you take those inconsistencies for granted. What the ringaround does is give you a sense of the mood right now. It’s not scientific but at least it can be indicative.

    The other thing is the mammoth nature of the mining effort is not matched by the quanity in terms of product. The newsdesk is a cruel mistress. The morning flirtage – “We’re desperate, we’ll take anything from you at all”  - becomes outright rejection at night – “We’re very tight for space so you’ll have to bung those five stories over as one and do it all in 50 lines (250 words). And what’s keeping your copy? This is a daily newspaper, not your (very irregular) blog, McGee”.

    The net point is this: all those hours of conversations; all those acres of quotes; all that smalltalk, gets distilled down to a few hundred words. That ten minute conversation you had with that Deputy – yep, see, we have accommodated about three seconds of it in the last paragraph.

    I spoke to a lot of Fianna Fail TDs today. Mostly anonymously. I though it might be a useful exercise to transcribe what they said, abridge it slightly, and then put it in to this blog in a raw state, untampered or untouched by human hand or keyboard. So following are some of the quotes from today, given in the sequence they were received. It just so happens that the first few are not supporters of Cowen. It balances out. It must also be remembered that quite a few backbenchers (mostly Cowenite) were prepared to go on the record and publicly nail their colours to the mast. Their views are reflected in the newspaper article.

     TD ONE

    “They are a couple of them going around trying to get people to sign up to a motion of no confidence. Nobody wants to sign that. That’s not the way it’s done. My own belief is that people will start going to [Cowen] between now and Christmas telling him that he has to to. We need a new leader going into the election.

     TD Two

    Six months ago, I didn’t believe we needed a new leader but now we do. I think that the move will happen sometime in the New Year. He was good today and the pressure is off but I really think he has to go.


    There are mixed messages. The grass roots want rid of him. A considerable number of TDs do not want to face into an election with him as leader. The bottom line is that while there are feelers out for other people, unless somebody challenges him he is leader by default.

    Certaintly there’s a strong feeling that going into a General Election with him at the head would be disastrous. It’s going to be a hard sell. We need a person who gets the message across to the people.


    A lot of people do not have the bottle to sign a motion. Others have different reasons for not going public. The future of the party is at risk at the next election. We are only going to survive it by having a leader that can communicate with the public.


    The leadership question is shifting ground all the time. His performances this morning and last night were very strong. Last week I thought he would definitely not lead the party into an election. This week I have changed my mind. I think we have no other option.

    TD SIX

    Today in the Dail he was absolutely brillaint. He tore into the oppostion. He asked them what they would do and he did it again on the radio and the television last night. The damage from the IMF [intervention] – I would not blame the Taoiseach for all of it. He is definitely fighting now. If he was like that in an election, it would be a big help.


    A lot of poeple beleive that it would be madness for this fellow to lead us. There is confusion though. Who is going to oppose him? Ministers point to TDs and TDs point to ministers. Nobody is willing to take responsibility. Most of the ministers are appointed by Cowen and thefore do not feel it’s their duty. The question is: who is going to take him out?


    No Minister wants to be seen wielding the sword. The Budget is over and they should be [wielding it]. We cant’ get more than six signatures. Brian Lenihan needs to move now if he wants it. If he waits till after the election, he will lose to Micheal Martin,

    As for Lenihan as leader, if you asked me before the IMF intervention, I would say yes. Now, I am not so sure. He’s been damaged in the past few weeks.


    Cowen will lead us into the next election. I just can’t see the point of anybody else taking over. It’s as simple as that.

    TD TEN

    The idea of having three leaders in one term is ridiculous. It make no sense and would be a bad decision. We would be crucified for it.


    I do not think there will be a direct challenge. There are many people who believe in a change of leadership. But they also believe a bloodbath in the party is not acceptable. It can only happen if party elders go to him and put it to him.

    There are two different views. Changing would be a mistake as the party would lose credibility. The other is we need a fresh lick of paint.  I am a Cowen supporter and am not keen for a bloodbath.


    I do not think there will be one immediately. Brian Cowen is great when he is in a corner. He was in great form this week. I believe he will lead us. Nobody has asked me about the leadership.


    I thinkhe will lead us into January. Whether he leads us into the month of February is a different matter. I am not sure that anybody is taking him on. If there is, it’s going to have to be a Minister. People have asked me to sign the [no confidence] motion and I have asked them: ‘You tell me who is the candidate?’ They have not been able to say. If there was a vote of no confidence, the most who would vote against him would be 9.


    He is a changed man since Galway. He is the Brian Cowen we all though he was before. However excellent his recent performances, there’s a sense in the organisation that it’s too late. He is the lightning rod for a lot of public anger.

    The traditions of the party are very strong. I do not see people willing to sign a motion of no confidence. If he continues with this type of performance he can turn the tide. For anybody else, what’s the point of being leader for an election you are going to lose?

    Is there some benefits to us having a different face? A lot of people privately formed the opinion that it could make a difference of one to three per cent. But you balance that against the traditions and instincts of the party, or loyalty to the organisation.

    If you asked me last week, I would have though he was looking for time to complete the job and go voluntarily after the Budget.

    Now, he has a growing determination to stick with it. In the absence of a member of Cabinet or significant figures in the middle of the party putting themselves up to oppose him, he is there if he wants it.


    Thre’s nothing happening. It’s more dead today that it was yesterday. There’s a few trying to drum up support for Brian Lenihan but they’re getting nowhere.


    There’s no way that backbench TDs are going to put their names to a motion. He is fighting it out and he is not going to stand aside. It’s very hard to call. It’s not going to happen without a Minister getting involved. I believe that if 18 names were found, Cowen would lose the motion. There’s no way that backbench TDs are going to put their names to a motion though.

    • Greg says:

      According to TD number 14

      “The traditions of the party are very strong. I do not see people willing to sign a motion of no confidence”.

      Doesn’t that just tell you everything you need to know about Fianna Fail.

    • robespierre says:

      Harry you make the IT come over like the Baltimore Sun in the last series of the Wire. Lesson: make it all up in florid prose and yours will be kingdom of pulitzer.

    • barbraeile says:

      Recently, I watched an après budget debate between Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan and the opposition (Fine Gael) spokesperson on Finance, Michael Noonan (chaired by Richard Crowley) on RTE’s Prime Time the other night and was very struck by the calm dignity and confidence-inspiring demeanour of Brian Lenihan, even though, absolutely exhausted, as the Minister for Finance must have been in the immediate aftermath of what must have been a very long and very gruelling task – which involved formulating and delivering a very challenging and very involved budget and in such difficult times and under the scrutiny of the World’s media. At the same time I was again very struck, but not at all in a good way, by what came across to me as the calculated derisive demeanour and petty political posturing of Mr Noonan. So long have they been “in opposition”, unfortunately that is all FG and Labour seem to know how to do – accentuate the negative and that is exactly NOT what the country needs at this critical time in the current precarious Global politico-economic environment, whereas FF are totally up to speed and will get us through the crisis, imo. I think the election should be put back to its original date in 2012 to give FG and Labour time to come up with some positive alternatives – within the constraints, of course. Moan, criticize, snipe and most of all, scowl is what FG and its supporters do best.
      About the leadership of FF – Brian Cowen should remain as leader and now that the pressure is off regarding the passing of the budget (which is absolutely essential for Ireland’s recovery) and which Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan devoted their every waking hour, we are beginning to see Brian Cowen the gladiator emerge again and this is a warrior that you want on your side to lead the combat and that you do not want to mess with. The man is a political genius and history will recognize this— as his enemies certainly do. Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan – great combination.

    • Enda Kenny says:


    • Simon Palmer says:

      I’d love nothing more that Brian Cowen to lead FF into the next election. This way they’ll walk blind into a bloodbath and their party will be decimated. The fact that a bit of fighting talk from Cowen has reassured his some of the TDs just goes to show what short memories they have. Cowen’s policies as Finance Minister are directly responsible for the financial problems the country is facing and his bank guarantee scheme when Taoiseach bankrupted the country. He’s political career is dead and his party will be in the wilderness for many years.

    • MCH says:

      What a shower of snivelling cowards! It’s no wonder things happened the way they did with FF in power. Cowen starts shouting the odds at this very later stage – I mean he literally has nothing left to lose, and backed into a corner he has no option but to fight – horse bolted / Gov no cred / country broke / people sickened etc. etc.
      I mean who care who leads leads these ‘FF inward-looking ‘traditionalists (agree with Greg’s comment)’ they will hopefully never grace Dail Eireann again!

    • Patrick Hennessy says:

      Cowen is the victim of history. Unfortunately he swam with it, failing to dampen down the incendinary running amok tiger when MOF, failing to make the banks pay, failing to act out of the box. He follows history but doesnt make it.

      FF and Ireland needs a leader with the credibility, communication skills, pedigree, and ideas to lead us through rough waves to a safe shore. That leader may have to give the middle finger to the ECB and/or IMF . That leader may have to ask China to buy some of our banks. That leader will have to force through public service reform against Begg, ICTU and the whole damn civil service.

      Thats who we need and Cowen is not that man. he is a great man in good times and a lousy man in bad. but we are in bad times.


    • Michael says:

      The problem we have not had a ‘opposition’ over the past years….and given that Gilmore and Kenny (and their shadow finance spokespersons) have been so weak.. I really fear that a General Election will not bring any fruitful progress. However damaged the Brian’s are, Kenny and Gilmore as an alternative – no thanks!

    • William says:

      Barbraeile, you are either one of the Brians or you are a complete idiot.
      Cowen is nothing more then a school yard bully who turned into a little mouse when the IMF big boys came to town and Lenihan is completely out of his depth as a finance minister. Fianna Fail deserve to be wiped out in the next election but probably won’t be due to morons like you.

    • part time punk says:

      @ barbraeile – thanks for your party political broadcast. Cannot for the life of me understand how after two and a half of the worst years in the history of the State with an incompetent Taoiseach who bears a large amount of blame for being Minister for Finance when it went pear-shaped, and months of back-benchers grumbling, suddenly it’s all ok again because he ‘tore into the opposition at Leader’s questions’ and put in a good media show. WTF! Those should be par for the course and taken for granted.

    • jack meyhoffer says:

      it must be a really nice place on that utopian planet bertie barbraeile!!!

    • John Morrissey says:

      Barbraeile, what a wonderfully inspired piece of comic writing….’the man is a political genius’ …brilliant, I will be laughing for the night.

    • Joe Long age 9 says:

      Its late and Im helping my Dad with Christmas things but I just want to say Brian Cowen is doing his best and I hope he does well in the elections

    • barbraeile says:

      Imo, all the intelligence, erudition, political savvy, vision, wisdom, astuteness and to put it plainly — balls, are to be found in the Fianna Fáil party, especially Brian Cowen, Brian Lenihan, Micheál Martin. The FF front bench women, including Mary Coughlan and Mary Hanafin are world-class politicians and great role models for young women thinking of entering politics and many young and brilliant people are coming up through the ranks. And like the anti-government demonstrations that have been going on outside the Dáil in recent times, the anti-government invective in the Irish media is being promulgated by a very small, very nasty, vociferous element with an agenda that is not at all representative of the Irish people and, one person I have noticed in almost every anti government demonstration and appearing everywhere on national television and regularly on Vincent Browne’s TV3 programme is Siobhan O’Donoghue of the Migrants Rights Centre. Who is this person and what is her agenda?? I am entirely sick of this type of provocateur that has no mandate to speak on behalf of the people of Ireland. The system cannot be changed overnight. Politics is a long and arduous process that requires diligence, resolve and a “long haul” perspective in the realization that however great one’s aspirations, circumstances and opposition may thwart one’s efforts at every turn and change comes slowly. A political party needs older, wiser people at the head and younger people always learning and moving up through the ranks. It is the way of things.

      The way I see it, with men of integrity like Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan, who do not tolerate charlatans or fools, Fianna Fáil is looking mighty shipshape.

    • barbraeile says:

      Brian Lenihan and Brian Cowen have put together the most intricate, imaginative, rational and workable four-year plan to rescue Ireland from annihilation in the current Global politico-economic crisis and John Waters (Friday Opinion/Analysis) reckons that a bunch of post-election Fine Gael wetbacks could implement this????
      No freakin’ way..!! Fianna Fail has every chance of winning the next election. The tide is already beginning to turn as people see through the pathetic opposition heave and its clueless propaganda hype.

    • tony says:

      The fact that so much time and effort was put into this stuff epitomises the one party state mentality that journalists have been victims of for the last decade and a half. As for barbraeile’s comments that the Taoiseach is a ‘political genius’ and that ‘Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan are a ‘great combination’. This is North Korean stuff. The country is broke and the IMF are here. Those two lads were involved. Enough said.

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