Cowen's leadership challenged


Taaiseach Brian Cowen today rejected an attack on his leadership by Fianna Fáil backbencher John McGuinness, who had called on him to consider his position

In an interview broadcast on KCLR 96FM this morning, the Carlow-Kilkenny TD said this week's Cabinet reshuffle showed "a lack of vision, strategy and imagination."

He also claimed Mr Cowen had "put the party and tribalism first and the country second" and said he should consider his position as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáíl.

"There wasn't enough emphasis on the economics of the situation, the need for a powerhouse within Government to formulate policy and move things forward with a direct focus on those who are unemployed," said Mr McGuinness.

"There isn't an obvious plan for people...we haven't reached out to those people that need the leadership in terms of their unemployment status or their business strategy to say, and by the way, this is what we are going to do next to support you and to get you out of your difficulties," he added.

The former junior minister te at the Department of Enterprise said he spoke with the Taoseach about his feelings about the reshuffle at yesterday's parliamentary party meeting. "I told him that he was showing weak leadership and that he was weak in his response to the plight of small businesses and indeed to the whole response to the public sector reform," he said.

"We are ignoring the citizen and we're dealing with the institutions and as we deal with the institutions they're not reaching out to support the citizen in what they do, and that is wrong. We have to get back to the basics, to get back to the party of Lemass and de Valera," he said.

"We need to look beyond the leadership of Brian Cowen and now deal with matters and put the country first," he added.

Mr McGuinness refused to be drawn on who might replace Mr Cowen but said he believed there were people within Fianna Fáil who could provide the leadership necessary. His comments come a day after a number of other backbenchers voiced disquiet over the recent reshuffle, with many describing it as a "missed opportunity."

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, where he is attending an EU leader’s summit, Mr Cowen made light of the criticism.

“I obviously refute and reject the contentions he makes,” Mr Cowen said. “Obviously as he says himself he’s expressing a personal opinion. My focus at the moment is on continuing to lead the country and the Government with the very serious challenges we continue to face,” he said.

Asked if he enjoyed overwhelming support within Fianna Fáil following his reshuffle, the Taoiseach the “vast, vast majority” of people in the party were team players who understood the context in which this Government was operating.

“There’s been strong solidarity and support for the policies we’ve been implementing,” he said.

The Taoiseach said the Government has shown a “great degree of solidarity and determination” to overcome unprecedented challenges.

“What I’m primarily concerned with is a stable Government that implements the policies that are necessary and a united and disciplined parliamentary party to give the necessary parliamentary approvals for the decisions and initiatives we have to take. As I say the vast, vast majority of the party are in that mode because that’s what the country needs.”

Speaking after a parliamentary party meeting last night, Bobby Aylward, one of Mr McGuinness' Fianna Fáil colleagues in Carlow-Kilkenny, said there was disquiet on the backbenches when no Ministers were dropped, two junior ministers were promoted to Cabinet and four Ministers were moved to different departments.

“It was our last throw of the dice before the next general election and I think it was a missed opportunity. And I’m not happy with the fourth Minister going to the Greens, especially when they pushed for a reduction in junior Ministers,” Mr Alyward said.

Donegal North East TD Jim McDaid said: “If you’re playing a football match and you’re away from home and you’re down one-nil, you’ve got to go on the attack. We should’ve brought in fresh faces.”

Tipperary North TD Máire Hoctor characterised the event as a “shuffle” rather than a reshuffle. “It was a great opportunity for the Taoiseach to revamp his team, and that he did not do. He played it safe . . . He dropped nobody,” she told RTÉ Radio’s News at One.

During Orders of Business in the Dáil this morning Fine Gael deputy leader and finance spokesman Richard Bruton said the failure of backbenchers to back the Taoiseach was evidence of "a grave and serious situation."

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said the rift showed it was only a matter of time until the collapse of the Government and claimed the coalition was now preoccupied with its own survival rather than pulling the country out of economic recession. “I think John McGuinness’s intervention... is what an awful lot of Government deputies are saying in private anyway,” he added.