The Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party meeting has ended without any challenge to Brian Cowen's leadership.

Fianna Fáil Chief Whip John Curran has said a number of people raised the issue of the Taoiseach's leadership at tonight's parliamentary party meeting and Mr Cowen indicated to them there were mechanisms in the party to deal with the issue if anyone wanted.

Mr Curran said the issue of communications over the last number of days was raised and that the Taoiseach addressed this with answers similar to what he had already given in public.

The Chief Whip described the meeting as 'business-like' and said the main discussions focused on the leadership issue but also on the Budget and the four year plan.

However, Fianna Fáil TD Mary O'Rourke has said there should be a special party meeting early in the New Year and those interested in the leadership should ‘throw their hats in the ring’.

The party held a parliamentary party meeting this evening, which one dissident Fianna Fáil backbencher earlier predicted would be a 'bareknuckle affair'.

Cork North Central TD Noel O'Flynn made the comments ahead of a discussion on the future of Brian Cowen's leadership by Fianna Fáil TDs and Senators at their meeting in Leinster House, which is still under way.

After the meeting, Mr O'Flynn said he told the Taoiseach that he did not have his confidence.

He said six other members voiced concerns and there was a suggestion that the discussion on the leadership should happen after Christmas.

Mr O'Flynn said he does not foresee anything happening in relation to the leadership before then.

He also told journalists that he met Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan earlier regarding his concerns about possible cuts to the State Pension and that he was 'Quite pleased with progress', which will allow him to vote for the Budget.

At the meeting Ned O'Keeffe called for a General Election to be held immediately.

It is understood deputies John McGuinness, Sean Power, Noel O'Flynn, Maire Hoctor, and Chris Andrews were among those who spoke of the need to look at the leadership after the Budget.

Noel Treacy gave an impassioned speech in defence of the Taoiseach and it is understood the majority of the party spoke in favour of passing the Budget.

Others expressed concern at the level of communications within the party.

Minister for Community, Equality & Gaeltacht Affairs said Minister Pat Carey said there was no call at tonight's meeting for the Taoiseach to stand down. He was at the meeting until 7pm.

Mr Carey described the meeting as 'constructive' and said nobody there said they would not support the Budget.

He said it is his belief that if a confidence motion was introduced in the Dáil all of the parliamentary party would support the Taoiseach and the Government.

Indications are that any challenge to the Taoiseach will not come until after Budget Day.

However, Mary Hanafin confirmed that her hat would be in the ring, if there were to be a leadership vacancy.

Mr O'Flynn earlier repeated claims that Mr Cowen should be replaced as leader, saying that he had done tremendous damage to the country and should go.

He said he was sick of having to face people and felt humiliated, betrayed and frustrated by not having known International Monetary Fund intervention was on the way.

He said he would sign any motion of no confidence.

However, fellow Fianna Fáil TD Tom Kitt said he will support Mr Cowen in any confidence motion in the Dáil and he will support the Budget.

Mr Kitt added, however, that he will not vote for Mr Cowen when the leadership issue comes up for discussion after Budget day on 7 December.

Another Fianna Fáil TD, Michael Kennedy, said his party needs a change of leadership but first of all the Budget, the four-year plan and EU/IMF negotiations must be completed.

Sinn Féin motion of no confidence

Sinn Féin, meanwhile, has called on Fianna Fáil backbenchers, who are unhappy with Mr Cowen’s leadership, to support a Sinn Féin motion of no confidence.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin also called on disillusioned members of the Green Party and members of the Opposition to support the motion.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Fianna Fáil TD Niall Collins said he did not believe any challenge against the Taoiseach would be able to muster the required 18 signatures to put the party leadership on the agenda.

Earlier, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan said Mr Cowen has her full support as Taoiseach and as leader of the Fianna Fáil party.

Ms Coughlan said if there were those who felt that a change was needed then there was a process.

Minister Mary Hanafin said there was no heave against Brian Cowen and she said she would not be part of any such move.

However, she gave a clear indication she would be interested in contesting the leadership of Fianna Fáil if a vacancy arises in the future.

Speaking in Dublin this morning, the Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport said that if the leadership was to become available in the future she would throw her name in the ring if members of the parliamentary party felt she had something to offer.

But the minister insisted there was no indication of any such move at present, as the Government was clearly focused on the country's economic recovery.

Meanwhile, three senators who relinquished the Fianna Fáil party whip earlier this year have been re-admitted to the parliamentary party.

Senators Jim Walsh, Labhras Ó Murchú and John Hanafin all resigned the whip last July over their opposition to the Civil Partnership Bill.

At this evening's meeting of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, the three were allowed return to the party fold.