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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 16, 2011 @ 4:48 pm

    Cowen but not quite out

    Harry McGee

    * UPDATE: 6.07pm: Brian Cowen has indeed said he will stay but added the extra ingredient of putting down a motion of confidence in himself. He must have been reading the Phil Hogan manual for political chicanery. For Enda Kenny used that tactic to great effect last June. By putting down a motion of confidence in yourself you seize the initiative and deprive any challenger from seizing the high grounde. Cowen seemed very confident at the conference. He after all has spoken to every TD and Senator. Secret ballot or no secret ballot, he is confident that he will have the backing.


    Brian Cowen is standing his ground.

    When I started ringing around this morning, it quickly became clear that he was going nowhere. His supporters – some of whom were very windy and indecisive on Thursday into Friday- had all changed their tunes. Even those supporting his putative rivals were saying their gut instinct was that he would stay.

    But the key things underlying it were:

    1. His change of mind on Thursday. At noon on Thursday he had decided to go but a ring-around by his supporters showed there was still a lot of support for him. He was being told by some the middle ground had shifted. But he had been told about it only second hand. His supporters told him that he would need to find out for himself. Hence, the decision to consult.

    2. The numbers. You look through the list of the 70 or so Fianna Fail TDs who are entitled to vote and you have to say that in the event of a straight no-confidence motion, he could easily commande the support of at least 40. But that would only be if a rival does not emerge. The declaration by a challenger would change the dynamic. His supporters did an intensive ring-around Friday and Saturday to shore up their belief that they had the numbers. The emergence of a rival also played into that calculation. The numbers would be tighter but they were still confident.

    3. The consultation process. Cowen and his supporters had to find out if the middle ground of the party – most ministers, most junior ministers, most backbench TDs – had shifted after the catacylm of the latest opinion poll and the Seanie Fitz golf revelations.

    “If a team was losing badly coming into the last five minutes of a game and its star player was playing poorly, wouldn’t you throw in a substitute,” said one TD, who is, ironically,  close to Cowen.

    Sure many felt bad. But many also feel loyal to Cowen. As one Minister said to me this morning, most of them would not have the courage to tell him directly that he had to go. Most seem to have couched their criticisms in these terms: ‘Things look bad but would they be any better if somebody else was leading? Whatever decision you take boss I will support you’.

    The net message conveyed to him was that while there was an acceptance that things were bad, most didn’t automatically subscribe to the notion that he had to go, or that an alternative leader would be any better.

    5. Those close to him tell you that he was looking at the bigger picture – ie what’s best for FF and the country – and numbers weren’t paramount. But numbers were important. He knew that he had the numbers. And he knew that even if a challenger emerges he may have the numbers to survive.

    6. Fighting qualities. Some say, he was adamant that he didn’t want a bloodbath or divison in the party. But that said, neither did he want to go meekly on the basis of mutterings. They wanted to railroad him out with rumours, said one lieutenant.

    7.  Micheal Martin. Mary Hanafin. Brian Lenihan. The three pretenders seemed to be chopping and changing in their positions and positioning. There was a sense in Cowen’s camp that the Micheal Martin side was hoping Cowen would take all the hard decisions and leave an open field. It’s clear that the Lenihan and Martin camps were spooking each other last week. Both separately went to see Cowen on Monday. And both said it looked bad. But Lenihan seems to have rowed in behind Cowen – Martin supporters believe he now would prefer the leadership contest to be deferred until after the election. Martin has been silent. He is conscious of the criticism levelled at him in the past that he is indecisive. If he backs down from a challenge at this juncture, it could put paid to any future leadership ambitions a la David Milliband.

    8. Stubborn nature. It’s in his DNA to stand and fight, not to relinquish. For the good of the party and the country only goes so far when you are talking about Cowen.

    He has also gone through the hobs of hell for the past two and half years. For him, it would have been the greatest possible failure to be forced to meekly walk away from it all after making such a sacrifice.

    * If there are typos or grammatical mistakes in this blog, forgive me as I’ve tapped it out quickly in advance of the press conference.  So apologies in advance.

    • Conro says:

      Cowen needs to eat some humble pie, Sometimes your best is just not good enough sir.

    • RayD says:

      It was an awful press conference – a complete non-event and an abject waste of time. It points up two things that lack guts. Firstly the lack of guts on the part of FF politicians – not surprising of course. But what was surprising was the lack of guts on the part of the reporters present who failed to crucify him with good and tough questions. He got away with murder and no wonder he believes his own nonnsense since no one has the guts to challenge him in public.

    • Miceal O Coileain says:

      Will he not please put us out of his misery?? This country has suffered enough!

    • Des Deasy says:

      I am appalled. Cowan’s party deserves nothing but annihilation.

    • Robert Browne says:

      He has dragged democracy in Ireland through the gutter. When he lost the sovereignty of the country he was responsible for he should have resigned immediately. Of course he should resign over NAMA, over the blanket guarantee, over the Croke Park vote buying racket which, was and is, an extension of the foolish years of “bench marking” . Cowen has presided over 450,000 people out of work and 300,000 people having to emigrate and yet unbelievably he insists he is the best person to lead the country? What arrogance? Was it not enough that the had to be brought to the high court by Sinn Fein was it not enough that the IMF had to come in to take over the finances of the country and check the the DoF sums every week? How much more indignity must be heaped on his people before they decide enough is enough and take to the streets?

    • Paul Swann says:

      Like most of his colleagues in FF, Cowan doesn’t live in the real world, so asking himself to do the right thing for the party and the country is a joke.

    • Patrick Hennessy says:

      Brian Cowen says that he is staying on for the good of the country. What does it matter to ireland now if Brian Cowen, Hanafin, Martin or John Doe lead FF into the next election ?. Not a whit. The party is down and will not be on its feet to a count of ten. It is down and out for sometime to come. The best case scenario is that it will live to fight and win another day ………….maybe 8 years down the line from now. What does that matter to Ireland at this point given the hell we have yet to pass through to get to the end of these 8 years?. By comparison, nothing.

      The worst case is that FF at 84 years of age dies a natural death.

      I think a natural death is called for with reincarnation in some yet to be born body where the word Fianna Fail does not appear: where De Valera, CJ, Bertie and Brian are footnotes in very small print: the civil war left to historians, and the catholic religion in its proper place in Irish politics (nowhere). Amen.


    • robespierre says:

      Very good piece and on the money Harry. My understanding is that Hanafin and Martin simply don’t have a following within the PP. Martin may well have been trying to shore up Munster as a base but Cowen can claim a lot of the Munster TDs – probably at least as many as Martin.

      The reason is that Martin and Hanafin have never cultivated backbench relationships the way Comical Leni and especially Brian Cowen did. I know Bertie Ahern didn’t go this route either but he had other attributes going for him like popularity with the great unwashed.

      Hanafin in particular comes from an ultra-conservative political family that will become very relevant in the event that she goes forward for the leadership. Her brother abstained on civil partnership legislation last year and her father campaigned against every piece of social legislation contrary to Catholic dogma. She has always avoided making her own views known on any of these issues so it is difficult to ascertain whether she takes a different line from her relations.

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