Speculation rife on Cowen's position

Brian Cowen will make an announcement this evening about his leadership of Fianna Fail. Two leading political correspondents believe that the Taoiseach will remain as party leader, despite the protestations of several senior party members, including three Ministers.   

Twitter flurries

Saturday night, Twitter was again rife with speculation about Cowen’s possible resignation and potential candidates for the general election (#GE11). On Saturday the Taoiseach concluded two days of consultation with the Fianna Fail parliamentary party about the party leadership. Sunday's papers report that he had decided to resign on Thursday before changing his mind prior to the parliamentary party meeting. By Malachy Browne

Mary O’Rourke’s son Aengus, a councillor on Athlone Town Council tweeted late Saturday night: “Apparently Cowan (sic) is in his local, The Tap bar in Tullamore with supporters and friends now, he has indicated that he will step down tomorrow”. O'Rourke told Politico Sunday morning that the rumour came from a "reliable local source".

Aengus O'Rourke is first cousin to both Brian Lenihan (Minister for Finance) and Conor Lenihan (Minister of State for Enterprise). Brian Lenihan has indicated that he would like to run for party leader should the position arise. Conor Lenihan has repeatedly appeared in the media in recent days calling for a change in party leadership. Mary O'Rourke recently called on Brian Cowen to set a date for the general election.

O'Rourke's tweet triggered a flurry of supposition among those engaging on Twitter.

Sunday Papers

Micheal Martin is another possible contender for party leadership. Editor of the Irish edition of the Sunday Times, Frank Fitzgibbon tweeted Saturday evening that “[Micheal] Martin told Cowen on Monday he'd give him a week” (to decide his position as leader). He tweeted later on Saturday night that “Martin is stepping up”.

This morning Newstalk reported that a third possible candidate, Mary Hanafin is expected to resign her Cabinet position should Brian Cowen choose to remain as leader. Newstalk reported that Ms Hanafin told Brian Cowen on Friday he should step down as party leader.

The Sunday Tribune runs a frontpage story today that Brian Cowen "decided to resign as party leader only to change his mind immediately prior to the parliamentary meeting". It is thought that loyalists to Cowen convinced the Fianna Fail leader to remain having garnered some support for his leadership. Thursday's parliamentary party meeting was delayed by three hours while party sentiment was measured. However, as reported on Politico here, former TD Jim Glennon said that possible successors had telephoned other party members Thursday evening to seek support.

The Sunday Business Post reports on the front page that "Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin told Cowen that the party would be better served if he stepped down as leader, while remaining as Taoiseach". It reported that "Brian Lenihan has also conveyed to Cowen that a new leader will improve Fianna Fail's chances of reducing the scale of the electoral defeat". A Red C poll last week indicated that only 14% of voters intended to give Fianna Fail a first preference vote. Brian Cowen polled a 10% approval rating.

The Sunday Independent reports: "A source close to Mr Cowen said:'He is changing his mind every 10 minutes as to what he should do.'" The paper alleges that Cowen told a senior government figure: "I'm in limbo land". The paper says that Micheal Martin "is prepared to launch a full-frontal challenge for the leadership" and that "a sizeable part of the parliamentary party" is encouraging him to do so. The Sunday Independent says that Martin "is said to have the support of the 18 members needed to table a motion of 'no confidence' in the leadership".

Cowen to remain?

Speaking on the Marian Finucane show this afternoon, Irish Times political correspondent Harry McGee said he has a "gut instinct" that Brian Cowen will stay on. He said that Cowen has delayed making an announcement about his position until later this afternoon. McGee said that supporters of Cowen have advised him that, in terms of electoral damage, it matters a whit who leads the party into the next election.

RTE political corresponded David Davinpower concurred on RTE's 'This Week'. Davinpower said: "Some of those close to Brian Cowen say that he intends to stay on. Positive signs of an economic recovery. Such as decision "could spark turmoil [within Fianna Fail] with speculation about how Micheal Martin will react". 

Tainiste Mary Coughlan said that Mr Cowen "will be making a public announcement later on in the evening".

"I believe that he has to the forefront of his mind his country, and naturally his party. We have international obligations," she said. "He has taken the opportunity to speak to everyone... give or take. He has considered their views and their perspectives."

Coughlan suggested that Cowen's consultation process was primarily about his leadership style ahead of the next election. "There are concerns by all members of the party about how we are going to do [following poor opinion poll ratings]." She did not acknowledge that this latest crisis emerged as a result of drip-fed revelations about associations with senior members of Anglo Irish Bank in 2008, months before the bank guaranteed was given. Nor was she challenged on this issue.

Mary Coughlan praised Mr Cowen's leadership to date and took a shot at opposition leaders. "Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore would not be in a position to keep things together as Brian Cowen has in the last two and a half years". Again, this assertion went unchallenged. 

Ms Coughlan was questioned about Micheal Martin's ambitions for the leadership and the failure of any party member to publicly deny those ambitions. She acknowledged that Micheal Martin had expressed an interest in the leadership should the vacancy arise. "As I speak to you on the One O' Clock news, there is no vacancy," she said. Should Cowen remain as leader, the Ministerial positions of Brian Lenihan, Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin will immediately come under pressure from the Opposition benches and could spell further turmoil for Fianna Fail. This may provide the impetus for one of the putative successors to mount a leadership challenge. 

In clearly what was a scripted angle, Coughlan sought to attribute the announcement by Intel yesterday of substantial investment in Ireland with Brian Cowen's leadership. She said that with signs of the economy improving, Brian Cowen may choose to continue stewardship and see through economic recovery.

Labour's Brendan Howlin said on This Week that a decision to remain as Taoiseach and resign as party leader would be "wholly unacceptable" and said that the "Dail will revolt" next week if that scenario transpires. 

New candidates

The Sunday Tribune also reports that three high profile economists - Delta Index' Paul Sommerville, David McWilliams and Senator Shane Ross - intend to contest the general election. Paul Sommerville previously worked with Delta Index, a financial spread-betting company. Sommerville had a regular column with the Sunday Tribune and frequently appeared as an economic commentator on TV3's Tonight with Vincent Browne. David McWilliams is a pervasive economic commentator, author and recently, playwright. 

The Sunday Independent reports that Shane Ross has confirmed that he will seek election. The paper adds Peter Matthews to the list of possible candidates. It reports that Matthews was approached by two parties; Matthews allegedly told the paper that talks with Fine Gael were at an "advanced stage".  

Politico will update this through Sunday as the story develops.

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