Cowen, Lenihan meet press in show of party unity

By Ray O'Hanlon

Brian Cowen isn't quitting, not even thinking about it. And he explained his determination to stay in office in clear and unequivocal terms in meeting with the press this week on the steps of Government Buildings in Dublin.

Significantly, Cowen was joined by finance minister Brian Lenihan, one of four cabinet ministers named in reports as a possible successor amid the fallout from Cowen's disastrous radio interview which prompted allegations that he was either drunk or hung over.

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"I am not a taoiseach on probation. I am the elected leader of our party. I have the full support of my government colleagues. We have a job of work to do. Serious challenges face our country, and everyone in our party and the membership around the country wants us to get on with that," Cowen told the assembled journalists.

"Emphatically ruling out any prospect of resignation, Cowen spoke in the kind of crisp and direct language his supporters have been crying out for since he took office," was how Stephen Collins of the Irish Times heard Cowen's rebuff to critics.

That said, those critics are still out there and government and Fianna Fáil party eyes and ears will be attuned to opinion polls due out this week before they draw firm conclusions.

One former junior minister, meanwhile, has called for a meeting of Fianna Fail TDs and senators to discuss Cowen's future.

Tom Kitt, who was removed from the cabinet following Cowen's appointment as taoiseach in 2008, said the meeting was necessary to "consider the ongoing controversy" following the now infamous radio interview.

Kitt's critical voice has been largely a solitary one though foreign minister Micheál Martin, who is in New York and Philadelphia, raised some eyebrows when he said that there were lessons to be learned from the interview and the uproar followed.

That criticism was mild, however, and not enough to set off the kind of feverish speculation that has characterized "heaves" against Fianna Fáil leaders in former years.

"Even before the Taoiseach and Lenihan put on their show of unity it was becoming clear that none of Cowen's Cabinet colleagues was planning to challenge him, whatever their own long-term ambitions," Collins wrote in the Times.

Those that might challenge, someday, have been named following the radio interview and their names have become more fixed in the public imagination.

They are those of ministers Martin, Lenihan, Dermot Ahern and Mary Hanafin. None would appear to be either prepared or ready for a challenge to Cowen's leadership and as yet there are no clear signs of party TDs and senators forming up behind any of them with a view to pushing Cowen out of office.

Cowen himself, meanwhile, deliuvered an apology for his radio performance in another RTE radio interview.

"I would like to make it very clear there was no intention on my part whatever of any disrespect to the country or to the people of Ireland in respect of the interview itself. It wasn't my best interview having heard it again on tape as there was a hoarseness in my voice.

Asked if he regretted doing the interview Cowen said: "Well I'm sorry that it emerged in the quality that it did, as I say there was a hoarseness in my voice throughout the day. But it doesn't take away from the fact that it wasn't my best performance and I would like to apologize for that."

PHOTOCALL: Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Tanaiste Mary Coughlan at the launch Tuesday of a construction project in Dublin.