TAOISEACH Brian Cowen had decided to resign as party leader on Thursday, only to change his mind immediately prior to the parliamentary party meeting, the Sunday Tribune has learned.

It is understood that some time after midday, the Green Party and senior ministers were told that Cowen was going, but the Taoiseach reconsidered after a lunchtime ring-around of deputies by close allies.

Cowen also spoke by phone with finance minister Brian Lenihan and decided instead to embark on the process of consultation with TDs which continued over this weekend.

There were growing indications yesterday that Cowen may be considering staying on, which would mean a motion of confidence would be required to force him out. Efforts to secure the 18 signatures required for such a motion are understood to be ongoing this weekend.

Party figures close to Cowen believe he will not let matters get to the point of a confidence motion because of the damage it would do to the party.

But it is known Cowen is deeply reluctant to be seen as having been forced out over "a game of golf with Seán FitzPatrick". While those closest to him personally believe he should go, his main political allies are urging him to fight on. He may need to be told a confidence motion is being readied to force his hand.

It is understood that Cowen spoke with foreign affairs minister Micheál Martin yesterday. There were no public indications from the Martin camp as to what might happen if the Taoiseach does not opt to stand aside. But Martin met with Cowen last Monday and there seems little doubt the Cork TD suggested that a change of leadership could help the party salvage seats.

Cowen also met with the other contenders for the leadership, finance minister Brian Lenihan and tourism minister Mary Hanafin, on Friday night. It is understood Lenihan expressed support for Cowen's decision not to resign on Thursday and to take soundings from the parliamentary party.

While there were some reports Lenihan may have expressed support for Cowen, it may not have been so clearcut as it is known Lenihan has been concerned about Fianna Fáil's standing in the opinion polls.

Hanafin is understood to have told Cowen a change was required and there is a belief in his camp that she could move a confidence motion.

Fianna Fáil figures say it was last week's Red C poll that kick-started the latest heave. A number of exasperated TDs – described as "not the usual suspects" – contacted Martin in the wake of the poll, indicating the middle ground was shifting against Cowen.

Analysis, Pages 18-23