MINISTER Micheal Martin’s supporters were today appealing for TDs to vote ABC – ‘Anybody But Cowen’.
The battle cry came as Finance Minister Brian Lenihan’s brother described the Taoiseach as “a Dead Man Walking”.
Junior Minister Conor Lenihan also described Mr Cowen’s golf game with disgraced banker Seanie FitzPatrick as harking back to the Haughey era.
Rebel Micheal Martin today said the Taoiseach’s leadership has been “poor”, and believed allowing him to remain as leader would open up the floodgates to Sinn Fein and Independents in the next Dail.
Frantic phonecalls were continuing behind the scenes today as both camps sought the necessary 36 votes to carry the day.
Micheal Martin revealed that he believed his figures were “well into the 20s at this stage” but predicted it would be “very, very tight”.
Fianna Fail backbenchers were looking to Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin for direction but both were cautiously assessing the situation.
However, their supporters were urging colleagues to unite in a so-called ABC vote against Brian Cowen and then let the main players battle in a leadership contest.
In an article for today's Herald, Mr Lenihan's brother Conor describes how the Taoiseach is viewed as “a dead man walking” in the party.
“Few that I spoke to over the past weekend believe he can win us votes in the general election,” said the Minister of State.
He also credits brother Brian with forcing Mr Cowen to put down a confidence motion that “will bring things to a head”.
Speaking on behalf of the Taoiseach today, Government Chief Whip John Curran said that he didn't know what members of Cabinet have pledged their loyalty to Mr Cowen.
“A number of them have already passed comments publicly supporting the Taoiseach,” he said.
The Taoiseach and Micheal Martin spoke at least three times yesterday and Mr Cowen was fully aware of his Minister's plan when he called an impromptu press conference at the Alexandra Hotel.
At that stage the Minister had already offered to resign and today he said that his offer was “still on the table”.
However, allies of the Taoiseach claimed that he had outwitted the Minister and exposed his “lack of courage”.
A senior Government figure told the Herald: “Martin wants it both ways. He's playing for backbench support but doesn't have the real courage to go. He wants to hold on to the Merc.”
During a drama-filled day of politics, the two contenders held press conferences at separate Dublin hotels.
Mr Cowen said that he could not see a situation where he would continue as Taoiseach but step down from the helm of Fianna Fail.
He insisted that he has enough support among the party's 71 TDs who will have a vote in the secret ballot.
Mr Curran explained that TDs will be given an opportunity to speak at the Parliamentary Party meeting tomorrow night before “a straightforward” vote takes place.
“There won't be a cut-off,” he said, indicating that it will be a long night for the party.
Making a plea for support today, Minister Martin said that he was worried about the lack of an electoral strategy within FF.
He claimed the stream of resignations by high-profile ministers “wasn't really managed”.
“Nobody knew who was coming out next,” he said on Newstalk Breakfast.
He refused to speculate if any other ministers would publicly speak out against Cowen, although he did discuss his own decision with Mary Hanafin.
“This is not about wily operators any more. There might be nothing to jockey for after the election if we don't get our act together and do something,” he said.
The Cork TD said that he “could have walked off the pitch as well” but wanted to fight the election “with fire in the belly”.