TÁNAISTE Mary Coughlan has refuted a claim by sacked junior minister John McGuinness that he told her face-to-face she was not up to the job.
McGuinness went on The Late Late Show on Friday night and told Pat Kenny he had expressed his concerns directly to Coughlan that she was struggling in the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.
However the Tánaiste's spokesman has denied this, saying: "The allegation he made that he told the Tánaiste face to face that she was not up to her job is utterly false. We understand why he feels the way he does in terms of being demoted but he is still part of the parliamentary party and we look forward to him making his contributions within the parliamentary party."
An unrepentant McGuinness yesterday repeated his criticism of the government saying he had no regrets about his controversial Late Late appearance.
There was little support for McGuinness's stance among his fellow backbenchers with Donegal TD Niall Blaney calling his comments about Coughlan "disgraceful".
He said: "I think that his behaviour on the Late Late was like a spoilt child throwing toys out of the pram. If he was as innovative as he said he was he would have shown that in the position he was in."
Speaking to the Sunday Tribune yesterday in his Kilkenny constituency office, McGuinness said: "I have had very positive reaction all around since the Late Late interview. Needless to say it has been quite staggering in my own constituency across political party lines and within the party.
"Candidates from all over the country, that I wouldn't even know, rang me to say that it needed to be said. From colleagues within the parliamentary party I have had quite a range of support which was unexpected. I have been taken aback by it."
He added: "I have no regrets about doing the Late Late interview. My only regret will be if something positive does not come out of it. We need a new direction in terms of a number of different policy issues to do with social exclusion, creating an enterprising society and giving people an opportunity to get on."
Taoiseach Brian Cowen yesterday defended Mary Coughlan in Tullamore saying: "Obviously I have full confidence in the Tánaiste – that's why I appointed her. It's important that we all move on.
"It's been a difficult week and we had to make some changes and I think everyone recognises this, and indeed when I had to communicate these decisions everyone took them in an excellent spirit and I think we as a united party want to move on and deal with the issues of the country."
When asked if reports were true that Mary Coughlan gave him an ultimatum demanding McGuinness be sacked or she would resign, the Taoiseach replied: "Not at all."
He said: "I am not aware of any discontent in the party. The party is actually motivated and committed to getting on with the business. We have elections to fight," before adding: "John's entitled to his opinion. He's been asked questions and he's answered them".
One of the few Fianna Fáil deputies to publicly support McGuinness this weekend was Tipperary South deputy Mattie McGrath.
"John McGuinness was the only business man we had at junior cabinet level and we need business people in there to sort out our present situation. We are in a serious situation economically and we need business people but they are not in the department and they are not in the government.
"I had three people in my own constituency who came to me with plans to set up business and the only one I could talk to was John McGuinness. I am fond of the Tánaiste but I agree she was more suited to agriculture… We need a business mind to run the department. It is not easy for any minister as the officials in there have no idea what is going on on the ground," Mc Grath added.
Not all backbenchers are happy with McGuinness. Donegal TD Niall Blaney said: "His comments about the Tánaiste were disgraceful and as far as I know it, he didn't challenge the Tánaiste. I think it was just opportunistic. It's just sour grapes and he should take it on the chin like a man."
Another backbencher said, "What we are seeing here is somebody who didn't expect to be demoted who wants to ride all the horses in the race. He doesn't realise politics is a team game… No player on any team is entitled to undermine the manager and the Taoiseach is our manager."
A prominent backbencher asked: "What concrete proposals has he come forward with? What communication has he had with the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and Minister for Finance? If he has this capacity, let us all see the proposals that he has had rejected."
Another critical Fianna Fáil TD said: "He came forward with a very critical attack on the Taoiseach and Tánaiste and he is trying to align himself with the public perception.
"That does have currency with people but he is not accepting that this country is in the midst of one of the biggest crises in its history parallelled with an international crisis."
"It is much easier to sound intelligent by being negative than it is to come up with solutions."
A minister told the Sunday Tribune McGuinness's reaction was to be expected and it should not be overestimated as "it would be a lot worse if he voted against the government in the Dáil".