Kelleher joins Cowen rebel ranks


Taoiseach Brian Cowen has confirmed he will remain as leader of his ruling Fianna Fail party

An Irish junior minister has joined rebel ranks trying to oust Taoiseach Brian Cowen as leader of the ruling Fianna Fail party.

As Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin claimed other Cabinet members also wanted change, Billy Kelleher said he would vote to end Mr Cowen’s rule. Mr Kelleher warned he also believed the majority of Government ministers and backbenchers wanted change.

The junior minister, who holds the trade and commerce portfolio but not a seat at the Cabinet table, claimed Fianna Fail had failed to communicate properly with the public.

“The reality is that Fianna Fail must recognise the current climate of public opinion, and I believe the time has come for a change of leader who will put forward a positive agenda and engage with the public,” he said.

Mr Martin has led the charge against the Taoiseach, claiming that the survival of the party is at stake at the next election, due in March. He claimed there was back-biting and whispers in the party throughout last year over Mr Cowen’s leadership.

The Taoiseach broke with protocol on Sunday night to announce he would put forward a motion of confidence in himself in a secret ballot at Tuesday’s meeting of the parliamentary party. He needs 36 votes to survive.

Two other senior Cabinet members, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin – both put up as potential leadership candidates – have yet to declare their intentions.

Mr Martin has tendered his resignation amid the crisis. The Taoiseach refused to accept it but the offer will stay on the table until the issue is resolved at the secret vote. The Foreign Affairs Minister said party members around the country have warned him that they do not want Mr Cowen as leader in the election campaign.

Government Chief Whip John Curran said he had not heard of any other minister backing Mr Martin.

“Brian Cowen, staying on not just as Taoiseach but as leader of Fianna Fail, is prepared for the battle,” Mr Curran said.

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