Irish prime minister faces leadership contest

Brian Cowen to table motion of confidence as foreign minister Micheál Martin offers resignation over ‘survival of Fianna Fáil’

Henry McDonald in Dublin

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen could face a no-confidence vote  at a Fianna Fáil meeting today.
Brian Cowen, Ireland’s prime minister, says he will hold a secret ballot on his leadership later this week. Photograph: Peter Morrison/AP

Ireland’s prime minister, Brian Cowen, faces a leadership contest after the country’s foreign minister said tonight that it was time to change their party’s leadership before the expected general election.
Micheál Martin, the foreign minister, tendered his resignation in order to challenge the taoiseach as leader of Fianna Fáil – the main party in the ruling coalition.
Speaking in Dublin this evening, he said that throughout his time as a minister he had given his views in an honest, open way.*
Martin said that he had reluctantly concluded that Fianna Fáil should change its leader before the general election. The Cork-based member of the Irish parliament had been regarded as the favourite to succeed Cowen as leader of Fianna Fáil even before this unexpected leadership challenge.
He welcomed Cowen’s announcement earlier this evening to table a vote of confidence in his leadership, but Martin said he would be voting against.
The move had been triggered by the latest opinion polls and the lack of direction for the party. He said low morale within the party and unhappiness among the public was also a reason, and the “survival of the party is at stake”.
Fianna Fáil has been recording historically low results in opinion polls since the fiscal crisis forced Cowen’s government to ask for a multi-billion euro bailout from the IMF and the European Central Bank.
Cowen expressed his determination to remain as Fianna Fáil leader, and told a news conference in Dublin that he would a table a motion of confidence at the parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday.
Cowen said he made his decision after consulting party colleagues and reflecting on current and future challenges.
He said he was not motivated by personal ambition, and that there was not “an ounce of difficulty” between him and any of his colleagues.
The taoiseach said that by taking this initiative he believed he was acting in the best interests of the party and its membership and he was confident of the outcome.
Asked about divisions within the party, he said there were “varying views of varying degrees” across the party.
He said there was concern throughout the party about the present state of public opinion, but he said Fianna Fáil had an opportunity in an election campaign to put its case to the people.

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