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Taoiseach may face party challenge

Speculation is mounting in Leinster House that Brian Cowen's position as leader of Fianna Fáil is under imminent threat, RTE reports.

A meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party that was due to take place this morning has been postponed until 3 p.m.

There was speculation around Leinster House this morning that the meeting would consider Brian Cowen's leadership.

Asked whether a no confidence motion might be tabled, one senior minister told RTÉ "that may well happen."

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RTÉ Political Correspondent David Davin-Power says some of Cowen's supporters are now conceding that he has been seriously weakened by the revelations of his contacts with former Anglo Irish Bank boss Sean FitzPatrick.

The Taoiseach yesterday told the Dáil his side of the controversy over the previously undisclosed contacts.

The only new information to emerge was that after playing golf with FitzPatrick and his friend Fintan Drury, a number of other people joined them for dinner.

They were Cowen's garda driver, businessman Gary McGann, who was then a member of the Anglo board and Alan Gray, who had been appointed to the Central Bank board by Cowen in 2007.

Cowen said they had not discussed bank matters and again rejected suggestions that he acted improperly.

However the Opposition said the disclosure had left his credibility damaged.

One of the participants in the dinner involving the Taoiseach and FitzPatrick said the affairs of the bank were not discussed at the meal.

In a statement last night, economist Alan Gray confirmed he attended the dinner in Druids Glen Golf Club in July 2008.

Gray, who did not play golf, said the purpose of the invitation was to provide independent ideas to stimulate economic growth and reduce unemployment.

Lowry would not back a new nominee for Taoiseach

Independent TD Michael Lowry has confirmed that he will not support a new nominee for Taoiseach in the event of Fianna Fáil changing its leader.

Deputy Lowry, whose vote is crucial to the Government's majority in the Dáil, said: "if Fianna Fáil want a new Taoiseach, they should call an election."

Later, in a statement, he called for the Dáil to be dissolved and an election held. “When this issue arose last year I stated my position clearly,” he said. “This has not changed.

“Having said that, because of the political uncertainty and instability that prevails it is imperative that this Dáil be dissolved and an immediate General Election take place.'

It is not clear what the Green Party position would be on the election of a third Taoiseach in the lifetime of a single Dáil.

In a RTÉ Radio interview before Christmas, party leader John Gormley said people should not make assumptions about the Green Party position.

Separately, Sinn Féin has announced that it has tabled a motion of no confidence in Cowen on behalf of the Technical Group in the Dáil.

In a statement, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin announced the seven members of the group had tabled the motion.

“This Taoiseach and this Government are completely discredited. No effort must be spared to remove them from office,” said Ó Caoláin, who called on Fine Gael and Labour to support the motion.

In the Dáil this morning, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan said she fully supports the Taoiseach's version of what had happened at the County Wicklow golf course.

She was responding to questions from Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny.