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Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-17

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen refused to heed appeals for his resignation as the head of the ruling Fianna Fail party on Sunday, calling instead for a vote of confidence on his leadership to take place this week.

REUTERS - Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen defied calls to resign as head of the ruling Fianna Fail party on Sunday and instead offered colleagues the chance to vote on his leadership in a secret ballot this week.

Cowen's move, after days of talks with parliamentarians, is only a stay of execution ahead of a general election, likely in March, that is expected to oust him and his government following an unprecedented economic crisis and humiliating EU/IMF bailout.
He has promised to call the election once his government's tough 2011 austerity budget clears a final hurdle in parliament, a vow he reiterated on Sunday.
"I have come to the conclusion that I should continue to lead the party. I believe this to be in the best interests of the stability of the government, the country and our party," he told a news conference.
Cowen faced calls to step aside following new revelations about his cosy ties with disgraced former bankers, which revived allegations that Fianna Fail was too close to the people who helped precipitate Ireland's financial meltdown.
But the former finance minister said he was confident of winning Tuesday's parliamentary vote on his leadership, laying down a challenge to any would-be rivals for his position, including Foreign Minister Micheal Martin and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.
"One has to assume he has done his sums and he believes he will carry the day," said Theresa Reidy, college lecturer in government at University College Cork.
"We will be waiting really until Tuesday to see if any kind of organised or orchestrated campaign emerges opposed to him."
Martin, seen as the favourite to replace Cowen, Lenihan and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin have said they would like to lead the party if a vacancy arises.
The trio have to weigh up whether it would be better to challenge Cowen now or let him preside over a disastrous election and then oust him with the risk of competition from younger MPs who may successfully argue that Fianna Fail needs a fresh face at the helm.
If no challenger emerges before Tuesday's vote, then Cowen will lead the party into the election.
Tainted by criticism he failed to put the brakes on a disastrous property bubble during his previous role as finance minister, Cowen's days as prime minister have been numbered since he was forced to seek an 85 billion euro bailout from the EU and the IMF late last year.
Under pressure from the Green Party, his junior coalition partners, Cowen pledged to set an election date after a final bill on the austerity budget passed next month.
But calls for him to leave sooner emerged after revelations that Cowen played golf with the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank, months before it was taken into state care.
Opinion polls suggest the Fianna Fail party could lose half of its 74 seats in parliament in the looming election, ending its decades-long dominance of Irish politics and consigning it to the opposition benches for years.


Date created : 2011-01-16


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