Dublin: Taoiseach Brian Cowen On The Brink Of The End Game As The Government & FF Party Implode: UPDATED

23 Jan

Irish politicians hoping to replace Brian Cowen as leader of the ruling Fianna Fail party have until Monday to put their name forward.

Brian Cowen Quits As Fianna Fail Leader Play video

Video: Brian Cowen Quits As Fianna Fail Leader

Mr Cowen announced his decision to quit the post yesterday but said he would remain as Prime Minister until the General Election on March 11.

Opposition parties have called for him to go much sooner than that.

Mr Cowen said he felt his continued leadership of the party was distracting from the issues facing Ireland in the run-up to the election.

The Taoiseach said: “I’m concerned that renewed internal criticism of my leadership of Fianna Fail is deflecting attention from these important debates.

“Therefore, taking everything into account after discussing the matter with my family I have decided, on my own counsel, to step down.”

He added: “The government will continue to govern the country.”

The opposition Labour party has tabled a motion of no confidence in the government and there will be a vote on it next week.

Fianna Fail will choose a new leader through an internal party vote next week, Mr Cowen said.

Finance minister Brian Lenihan and former foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin have confirmed they will contest the leadership.

Mr Cowen’s shock announcement is the latest twist in the crisis gripping the Irish government.

He last week tried to reshuffle his cabinet after narrowly surviving a previous vote of confidence.

However, the plan backfired spectacularly when it was opposed by the Green Party, partners in Fianna Fail’s coaltion.

Following Mr Cowen’s announcement that he was stepping down as leader of Fianna Fail, opposition parties demanded he set a new date for the general election.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said his party would vote against the government in next week’s motion of confidence.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said: “It is simply not tenable for Mr Cowen to remain on as Taoiseach as his colleagues in Fianna Fail squabble over the remnants of their party.”

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said Mr Cowen’s decision would lead to further instability.

“The government and Fianna Fail are in chaos. Their focus is not on the problems facing the country.”

NEWS UPDATE:

There will be a contest for the Fianna Fáil leadership after four senior members stepped forward as candidates following the resignation of Brian Cowen earlier today.

Former minister for foreign affairs Micheál Martin this afternoon paid tribute to the Taoiseach for his honesty and integrity and confirmed that he would be putting his name forward as a candidate to succeed him as party leader.

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan also confirmed he will contest the leadership. He is expected to hold a press conference tomorrow.

This evening, Minister for Social Protection Éamon Ó Cuív told RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta that he would contest the leadership.

Minister for Tourism Mary Hanafin became the fourth candidate when she confirmed tonight she intended to
stand.

Tánaiste Mary Coughlan tonight ruled out entering the contest to succeed Mr Cowen.

Parliamentary party chairman John Browne said this afternoon nominations for the leadership were likely to close on Monday with a secret ballot held at a specially convened meeting on Wednesday.

Mr Martin has emerged as the early frontrunner, boosted by his handling of the challenge to Mr Cowen’s leadership last weekend. Today he received the formal support of a number of TDs, including Michael McGrath, Peter Power, Sean Ardagh, Sean Haughey and Cork-based deputies Ned O’Keefe and Michael Moynihan. So far 14 TDs have expressed their support for Mr Martin. Former minister Willie O’Dea said tonight he would also support Mr Martin.

Speaking at his home in Ballinlough in Cork city this afternoon, Mr Martin said Mr Cowen had taken his decision to step down as leader of Fianna Fáil in circumstances which cannot have been easy but he admired him for his generosity in putting the party first and stepping down.

“I have always admired the Taoiseach, he’s always been a man of honesty and integrity. He has made a distinctive contribution to Irish public life in the ministerial portfolios he has held and indeed as Taoiseach of the country,” said Mr Martin.

Mr Martin said he saw no difficulty with Mr Cowen remaining on as Taoiseach and somebody else being leader of Fianna Fáil, given that the general election was only a few weeks away. He praised Mr Cowen for indicating that he would work with the new leader.

Mr Martin said that he would putting his name forward in line with the opinion that he had previously expressed that he would contest the leadership if and when a vacancy arose.

He said was not taking “anything for granted” in terms of support and he would be in touch with all members of the parliamentary party over the weekend to secure every possible vote as he expected others to also go forward and a full contest to take place.

“I will be talking to my colleagues over the weekend, setting out my vision for the party and for the country and I believe I can bring the energy, the vitality to the party to ensure a very vibrant campaign in what will be one of the most important elections ever for the country.

“I also believe my experience in various ministerial portfolios and my understanding of the economic challenges that face the country and in particular the role I’ve played in encouraging foreign direct investment and Irish owned industry that I know what it takes to ensure the right policy framework is in place in terms of job creation.”

Mr Martin admitted if elected leader, he faces a huge challenge in terms of winning back support for the party. While he refused to be drawn on the number of seats the party would win under his leadership, he identified a poll rating in the mid-20s as an achievable goal.

He said that he agreed with Mr Cowen’s assessment that the campaign should focus on policies rather personalities and it was important that Fianna Fáil play a central role on the debate on policy choices being put before the electorate. “I believe I have the energy and the passion and the commitment to make a difference in terms of how we organise ourselves and how we develop and formulate policies for the future.”

NEWS UPDATE:

The Green Party will announce later today whether it intends to remain in Government after Brian Cowen’s resignation as leader of Fianna Fáil.

 Green Party - To consider its position in Government
 Green Party – To consider its position in Government

Four candidates have so far emerged to contest the Fianna Fáil leadership, while Opposition parties are pressing for the Finance Bill to be fast-tracked through the Dáil to facilitate an earlier date for the General Election.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan is to launch his campaign for the leadership of Fianna Fáil at noon today.

Minister for Tourism, Culture and Sport Mary Hanafin is also expected to speak about her candidacy today.

Yesterday, former Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin and Social Protection Minister Éamon Ó Cuív publicly confirmed that they will be candidates too.

The new leader will be elected by Fianna Fáil TDs on Wednesday afternoon.

However it is not yet clear if a General Election will already be under way by then.

Green Party TDs and Senators meet this morning to consider whether they should remain on in Government.

The party has consistently said it wants to ensure passage of the Finance Bill before the election, but the Government’s Dáil position is looking increasingly precarious, with Independent TDs on which it relies deserting it.

Joe Behan has said he will not support the Government in a confidence vote next week, Mattie McGrath, who lost the Fianna Fáil whip, says he would find it difficult to do so.

Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy-Rae say they are ‘assessing the situation’.

Fine Gael, Labour and Sinn Féin have all said they will facilitate the passage of the Finance Bill by the end of the week, in return for an earlier General Election.

It seems increasingly likely that the Government will take that option.

NEWS UPDATE:

Senior Green party sources said there was “considerable anger” at the lack of notice given to them by the Taoiseach yesterday about his intention to stand down as Fianna Fail leader.

It appears that anger could very well lead the junior coalition party to withdraw from government when they meet later today to consider the impact of Mr Cowen‘s decision to remain on as Taoiseach.

It is likely that even if the Greens did withdraw from government, they would vote in favour of the Finance Bill, given their commitment on it to date.

“The party has repeatedly stated its desire to get the Finance Bill through and even if the party does withdraw, party members are likely to support the Bill even if in the opposition,” a source said.

Mr Cowen telephoned Green Party leader John Gormley just “a quarter of an hour” before he addressed the media in Dublin‘s Merrion Hotel, and informed him of his decision to step down.

At the press conference, Mr Cowen said that, following the week’s events and after speaking to his family but acting on his own counsel, he decided yesterday morning that his position was no longer tenable.

He will remain on as Taoiseach until the general election on March 11.

Speaking to the media, flanked by Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Chief Whip John Curran, Mr Cowen said: “I am concerned that renewed internal criticism of my leadership of Fianna Fail is deflecting attention from these important debates. Therefore, taking everything into account, and having discussed the matter with my family, I have decided on my own counsel to step down as leader of Fianna Fail. My intention now is to concentrate fully on government business and on continuing to implement the recovery plan.”

At times, he seemed emotional as he read his statement, particularly when he spoke of his affection for the history and traditions of Fianna Fail.

“I have an abiding affection for the Fianna Fail party, its history and its traditions. I know the men and women of Fianna Fail, the length and breadth of the country are concerned about the party’s prospects at the election. I too share those concerns,” he said.

“I want the party to be in the best position possible to contest that campaign as a united organisation. At this crucial time, when decisions and choices have to be made, the focus should be on the policies the political parties are offering rather on the narrow focus of personality politics,” he added.

Elsewhere, Fine Gael‘s Michael Noonan suggested on RTE News that his party would support the passing of all stages of the Finance Bill, but that the Government must go immediately.

His party leader Enda Kenny said it was utter and complete madness for Brian Cowen to resign as leader of Fianna Fail and remain on as Taoiseach of the country.

He said Fianna Fail was now a leaderless party in Government and he accused Mr Cowen of directly contradicting the position he had stated less than a week ago.

Mr Kenny said Ireland was now the ‘laughing stock of Europe‘.

– DANIEL McCONNELL Chief Reporter

Sunday Independent

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