Brian Cowen feels the effects of 'drunken' interview

The Irish Prime Minister is battling for his political survival following a radio interview in which he was widely judged to be the worse for wear after late-night drinks. Political murmurings about Brian Cowen, which began with that episode last week, persisted yesterday as the question remained high on the political agenda.

Mr Cowen has signalled that he is determined to stay on, and no cabinet ministers in the ruling Fianna Fail/ Green party coalition have broken cover to declare that he should go. But the standard ministerial declarations of support for the embattled Taoiseach have sometimes been accompanied by admissions, pitched as being more in sorrow than anger, that the incident has inflicted damage on an already deeply unpopular government.

Last night Mr Cowen gave an unexpected press briefing where he insisted he was not "on probation" as speculation over his leadership reached fever pitch. He declared that Fianna Fail was united behind him.

"I'm not a Taoiseach on probation," he said. "I'm the elected leader of our party. I've got the full support of my government colleagues."

Mr Cowen's performance in last week's interview was not strikingly shocking, but the fact that he gave a national radio interview at 9am, after drinking with journalists and others till after 3am, was viewed as particularly bad judgement. At one point he referred to the "Croke Park agreement", a key element of the government's economic strategy, as the "Good Friday agreement". He later said sorry but rejected suggestions that he was either drunk or hungover adding: "It wasn't my best performance and I would like to apologise for that. There was no suggestion of disrespect or casualness on my part."

The most obvious backbench sign of disenchantment came yesterday from former minister of state Tom Kitt, who declared: "The time has come to move on to new leadership. Heads are down a bit and we do need to do something about it in the days ahead."

It is not clear how much of Fianna Fail's grassroots agree with Mr Kitt, who no doubt feels a particular freedom to speak out since he was sacked by Mr Cowen several years ago. But party backbenchers are anxious that Fianna Fail's opinion poll showing is at a historic low, and many of them are in danger of losing their seats.

The most obvious candidate to replace Mr Cowen is his Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, who is probably the most popular and respected politician in the Irish Republic. He – rather than Mr Cowen – is given most of the credit for whatever success the government has had in coping with its deep economic problems.

Mr Lenihan, who joined Mr Cowen at his press briefing last night, has remained scrupulously loyal to the Prime Minister, saying adamantly that there is no vacancy for the job. Nonetheless, many in Fianna Fail would welcome his promotion.

The major complication is that Mr Lenihan was diagnosed late last year with pancreatic cancer. After receiving radiotherapy and chemotherapy he said this month that his cancer had stabilised and posed "no clear or immediate danger" to him. The party faces a delicate task in choosing between a politician with a health problem and another who has little chance of winning an election.

Mr Cowen's standing is so low that widespread surprise was evident a month ago in Ireland when he was included in a list of 10 international leaders who "have managed to win serious respect", chosen by Newsweek. The reaction verged on the incredulous that a Prime Minister with a personal standing of less than 20 per cent should be rated so highly abroad.

News
Pro-Russia rebels guard a train containing the bodies of victims of the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17 crash in Torez, Ukraine
i100
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Damon Albarn is starting work on a new West End musical
artsStar's 'leftfield experimental opera' is turning mainstream
Life and Style
Paul and his father
artsPaul Carter wants to play his own father in the film of his memoirs
Sport
Ben Stokes trudges off after his latest batting failure for England as Ishant Sharma celebrates one of his seven wickets
cricket
Arts and Entertainment
Members of the public are invited to submit their 'sexcapades' to Russell T Davies' new series Tofu
tv
News
Sky's Colin Brazier rummages through an MH17 victim's belongings live on air
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game
arts + ents'The Imitation Game' stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley
Extras
indybest
News
i100... and no one notices
Arts and Entertainment
Friends reunited: Julian Ovenden, Richard Cant and Matt Bardock in rehearsals for the Donmar revival of 'My Night
with Reg'
theatrePoignancy of Kevin Elyot's play being revived just after his death
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Year 5/6 Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The successful applicant w...

Year 5/6 Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: The JobThe successful ...

Business Analyst (Systems/ Incident Analyst)

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Business Analyst r...

SAP GRC Architect / Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

Day In a Page

Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor