Cowen says he will not be stepping down as FF leader

 

Taoiseach Brian Cowen has said there is "no vacancy" for the leadership of the Fianna Fáil party and that he intends to remain in place to deal with the Finance Bill and the general election in the spring.

His position as party leader has come under renewed pressure following further revelations about his contacts with senior Anglo Irish Bank officials in the lead-up to the controversial bank guarantee in September 2008.

Speaking this evening, Mr Cowen said the he had not considered stepping down. He had spoken to his frontbench, some of them individually, about how the party would go forward.

Mr Cowen said he was making it clear that he was the "democratic leader of the party" and said there was a need for "certainty and stability". He said the Government had to focus on recovery for the economy and had a four-year programme in place for that.

"My intentions are as I have stated them – I am democratically elected. I listen to the democratic wishes of the party," Mr Cowen said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Six One news, Mr Cowen said there had been "no one" in the parliamentary party who had "not been showing confidence in my leadership".

“I very much recognise the concerns that there are within the organisation regarding the future, regarding the electoral prospect, regarding the election," Mr Cowen said.

Asked whether he would seek to contest any motion of no confidence, he said: “Obviously that would be a matter for the party to consider and I would be the leader of the party while it was considered.”

“I am committed to leading this party. There is no vacancy. There is no probationary period," Mr Cowen said.

The Government intended to get through the current crisis and had to stick to the four-year plan it had in place to do this, Mr Cowen added.

He repeated that all his contacts with regard to Anglo Irish Bank had been "totally above board and appropriate".

In a statement, the Green Party said its TDs and senators met this evening to consider the Fianna Fáil parliamentary meeting about its party leadership.

It noted Mr Cowen's decision to consult his parliamentary party members about the matter.

"The Green Party has already stated that Mr Cowen should himself have revealed his contacts with Anglo Irish Bank principals. We also have concerns about additional revelations in this matter made in the Dáil on Wednesday."

Mr Cowen told a Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting this afternoon that he will discuss the leadership with senior TDs and Senators over the coming days.

Chief Whip John Curran said the Taoiseach had at that meeting "clearly indicated his intention to take the party into the next election". Mr Cowen was "of the view the vast majority' of parliamentary party members support him".

The Taoiseach told the meeting he accepted that there were concerns about his leadership. It is understood three TDs challenged Mr Cowen. The meeting then moved on to discuss other matters and then concluded shortly before 5pm.

TDs and Senators were also warned that party procedures should be followed if members wanted to seek a change of leadership.

Today's meeting was arranged following requests from some TDs earlier this week after more details of Mr Cowen’s dinner with former Anglo chairman Seán FitzPatrick at the Druids Glen golf complex in Co Wicklow in July 2008 emerged.

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said before the meeting there would not be a motion of no confidence against the Taoiseach today. “We are heading into a general election now. Deputies are anxious about the future, after the election, of the party,” he said.

Mr Lenihan admitted TDs and party members were concerned about the survival of the party after the election. Twelve Fianna Fáil TDs have announced their retirement from politics in recent weeks.

“Brian Cowen is the elected leader of the Fianna Fáil party. As one of his ministers naturally I have confidence in him,” Mr Lenihan said.

Fianna Fáil backbencher Mary O‘Rourke also dismissed the latest speculation, saying talk of a leadership heave was wide of the mark. “It‘s far too late. I hate saying it but we are where we are,” she told Newstalk radio.

“We are so near a general election that it would be futile I think to go changing anything.” Eighteen signatures of TDs and Senators are required to force a vote on the party leadership.

Meanwhile the Sinn-Féin led Technical Group in the Dáil has tabled a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach.

The group, which comprises of Sinn Féin's five TDs and independent TDs Maureen O'Sullivan and Finian McGrath, has called on Fine Gael and the Labour Party to support the motion.

In response to a question from Sinn Féin Dáil leader Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin, who was at Druids Glen for a function on the same date, as the informal dinner Mr Cowen disclosed yesterday that after his game with Mr FitzPatrick and Fintan Drury, who had stood down as a director of Anglo a few months earlier, they were joined for dinner by three other people.

These were Gary McGann, the chief executive of Smurfit Kappa who was a director of Anglo at the time, Alan Gray, an economic consultant who was on the board of the Central Bank, and a third man who was the Taoiseach’s Garda driver.