Dublin: General Election Date To Be Announced As Taoiseach Brian Cowen Quits

1 Feb

Ireland‘s Prime Minister will set the date for a general election today but Brian Cowen will not be returning to parliament.

On the eve of dissolution, he told Irish radio he had decided to retire from politics.

“It’s a momentous decision for me, but also I think it’s the right decision because the party is in the process of rebuilding and rejuvenating and renewing, and a generational shift should take place,” he said.

He is expected to address the Irish parliament around lunchtime before travelling to Aras an Uachtarain – the official residence of President Mary McAleese, whom he will ask to dissolve parliament.

Cutbacks, prompted by the multibillion euro bail-out, will be the battleground for the election campaign.

Polls suggest the electorate will punish the ruling Fianna Fail party for its handling of the Irish economy.

“There’s no doubt Fianna Fail are going to take an absolute hammering,” explained NewsTalk Radio’s Political correspondent Paraic Gallagher.

“Perhaps to the extent of the Tories for example in 1997.”

Mr Cowen survived long enough to push a crucial finance bill through.

The toughest budget on record became law last Saturday, just three days before the current Irish parliament becomes history.

Micheal Martin, the new leader of Fianna Fail, paid tribute to his predecessor.

“Brian Cowen has served as Taoiseach in extraordinarily difficult circumstances and he has done his utmost on behalf of the people of this country,” he said.

Mr Martin named a new front bench team in advance of today’s dissolution of parliament and the election campaign.

He described it as “a fresh start”.

Opposition parties called it “window dressing.”

NEWS UPDATE:

Taoiseach Brian Cowen will travel to Áras an Uachtaráin this afternoon to ask President Mary McAleese to dissolve the Dáil.

The formal announcement of the election date will be made later today by Minister for Local Government Éamon Ó Cuív. The date is expected to be Friday, February 25th.

The Taoiseach, who remains in charge of the country until a new Government is formed, will make his farewell speech to the 30th Dail at 2.30pm. He announced the end of his 27-year political career last night, confirming that he was stepping down as a TD.

Mr Cowen said his proudest moment in office was playing a part in the Northern Ireland peace process. He said he had no future plans but would be playing an active part canvassing for Fianna Fáil in the forthcoming general election.

Mr Cowen refused to comment on strong speculation that his brother, Barry, would now seek the Fianna Fáil nomination in the Laois-Offaly constituency, which holds its selection convention tonight.

Paying tribute to the Taoiseach, newly-elected Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said: “He has given a high example in public service and he is a politician who has been motivated by the common good.”

The Taoiseach made his announcement on the Tullamore-based radio station Midlands 103FM, saying he had consulted with his family before arriving at his final choice.

Speaking in an emotional voice, the Taoiseach thanked the voters in his constituency for their support which, he said, had enabled him to enjoy a lengthy career during which he had attained high office.

He said the decision was made with “a heavy heart” and was a “momentous” on for him.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Cowen said that, with the benefit of hindsight, it was easy to criticise the economic decisions he had made but he was satisfied that his integrity and good name were intact.

Dwelling at length on his role in relation to Northern Ireland he said it was a source of great satisfaction to have helped bring an end to a conflict which had been going on since his early youth and in which “over three thousand people had died”.

A solicitor by profession, Mr Cowen said he had not come to any decisions about his future activities outside politics.

He continued to insist that there was nothing improper in his game of golf with Anglo Irish Bank executives in 2008, before the crisis in that institution emerged.

“It was simply a golf game,” he said. Asked if they had discussed the financial position of the bank, he said: “We didn’t.” He said: “It was a great privilege to serve as a TD.” He wanted to thank the people of Laois-Offaly “for the wonderful support and the opportunity it gave to me”.

In addition to serving as Taoiseach since May 2008, Mr Cowen has occupied other ministerial roles since 1992, including finance, foreign affairs, health, labour and transport.

He told reporters he had discussed his decision in a constructive way with Mr Martin, who had made it clear it was a matter for Mr Cowen.

Refusing to accept that Fianna Fáil would suffer heavy losses in the general election, he pointed out that: “Campaigns matter. In the last campaign, we were on 30 per cent but we ended up with 41.6 per cent.”

In a statement issued by the party press office, he said: “I am humbled by and grateful for the many messages of support I have received.

“The genuine decency and warmth of people in this country is one of our finest traits and long may that be so. Buíochas ó chroí libh.

“Having considered the situation with my family, close colleagues and friends over the past number of days, I have decided not to put my name forward for selection as a candidate in the Laois-Offaly constituency for the forthcoming election.

“Although I am conscious that the Laois-Offaly Fianna Fáil organisation’s support remains available to me, they also made it clear that the decision rests with me and my family and that they will respect that decision. I thank them for their understanding and their solidarity.”

NEWS UPDATE:

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen confirmed last night that he will bow out of politics at the general election, saying he was leaving public life with his integrity intact and devoid of bitterness.

Although he will remain as Taoiseach until his successor is elected, the curtain will effectively fall on Mr Cowen’s political career today when he will trigger the dissolution of the Dáil to allow for the election.

His decision was not a surprise, following the manner in which his leadership of Fianna Fáil was prematurely ended and the lifetime of his government dramatically shortened following a botched reshuffle.

He announced his decision in an interview last night with his local radio station, Midland 103FM, saying: “The issue for me is what direction I want to take in my life now.”

He said it was also about recognising that he had been Taoiseach and Fianna Fáil leader in arguably the “most difficult period since the foundation of the state”: “I’ve led the Government, motivated day in, day out, week in, week out, month in, month out for the purpose of stabilising our economy.”

Mr Cowen confirmed he had spoken with his successor, Micheál Martin, but said the new FF leader had not urged him to retire.

“Everyone in the Fianna Fáil party would like to see me stand again,” Mr Cowen said, before criticising media efforts to suggest there was a divide between him and Mr Martin.

In a subsequent statement, Mr Cowen thanked his constituency colleagues and supporters in Laois-Offaly for understanding and respecting his decision.

There is still much affection for Mr Cowen in Laois-Offaly, despite his unpopularity nationwide, and his substantial vote would have represented FF’s only chance of retaining its three seats in the constituency.

Mr Cowen’s brother Barry, a councillor, may now be selected to run alongside the other candidates in a bid to soak up some of the Taoiseach’s support.

But while support remains in his constituency, Mr Cowen is set to depart office with the lowest approval ratings on record.

In a passage in Irish in his statement last night, he acknowledged the difficulties people were experiencing.

He first said it was a source of pride to him that Ireland had seen major progress since he was first elected to the Dáil in 1984. He then said it was a source of regret what the public had endured in recent years as a result of the “international economic crisis”.

Mr Cowen’s announcement came a few hours after Mr Martin named his frontbench, retaining all of the ministers still in cabinet and bringing back Willie O’Dea, who had been forced to resign last year.

Mr Martin defended his decision to retain Finance Minister Brian Lenihan as party finance spokesman, as the Central Bank delivered further bleak news saying the economy would not grow as quickly as had been previously forecast.

Mr Martin named outgoing TD and former Defence Minister Tony Killeen as national director of elections for the party’s campaign. The election committee also includes PJ Mara as chairman, Sean Dorgan and Pat McParland.

(Editor’s note: Taoiseach Brian Cowen leaves office in GREAT SHAME and without glory).

  • Opposition wants earlier election | 23/01/2011
  • Cowen to visit Aras today to have Dail dissolved | 01/02/2011
  • Cowen calls time on his political career after 27 years | 01/02/2011
  • Martin will not ask Hanafin or Andrews to shift constituency | 01/02/2011
  • Local Fianna Fail wants Cowen to contest general
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