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Europe

Former Irish foreign minister takes reins of ruling party

Video by Carla WESTERHEIDE

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-26

Ireland's ruling party, Fianna Fail, selected former Irish Foreign Minister Michael Martin (pictured) to replace Prime Minister Brian Cowen as its leader Wednesday. The move comes as Cowen pushed through the first phase of his austerity bill.

AFP - Ireland's ruling party elected former foreign minister Micheal Martin as its leader Wednesday to replace Prime Minister Brian Cowen, as the government's crucial finance bill scraped over the first hurdle. 

Lawmakers from the Fianna Fail party chose Martin just over a week after he launched a failed leadership challenge to Cowen and quit as foreign minister, a move that helped push the premier to resign as party leader on Saturday.
 
Martin apologised for the party's past mistakes at his first press conference as party leader.
 
"I am sorry for the mistakes that we made as a party and that I made as a minister. But the most important thing when things go wrong is that we learn lessons from that," Martin said.
 
A reserved figure, the 50-year-old Martin is a stark contrast to the populist Cowen and he will have little time to prove himself ahead of elections expected to be held in February.
 
Cowen's crumbling government meanwhile pushed the first stage of its key austerity bill through the lower house of parliament by a narrow margin of 80 to 77, keeping Ireland on track for the massive EU-IMF bailout it agreed on in November.
 
It needed the votes of independent lawmakers after the Green party pulled out of the Fianna Fail-led coalition on Sunday, depriving Cowen -- who had vowed to stay in office as prime minister -- of his parliamentary majority.
 
The government has agreed with opposition parties to fast-track the bill and get it approved by Saturday, at which point parliament will be dissolved and the general election called.
 
Cowen had last week set the general election for March 11 but was forced to bring it forward. The opposition Labour party said Monday the vote would be held on February 25, although this has yet to be confirmed.
 
That announcement followed a week of tumultuous politics even by Ireland's recent standards, sparked by Martin's challenge against Cowen.
 
The premier, whose popularity has slumped amid Ireland's economic crisis, pledged his full support for Martin heading into the election.
 
"I believe Micheal has proven in his various ministerial roles over the years that he has the essential leadership qualities of focused determination, stamina, collegiality and integrity," Cowen said.
 
The centrist Fianna Fail is braced for a hammering from voters angry about its handling of the economic crisis which led to a 67.5-billion-euro ($92-billion) International Monetary Fund and European Union bailout.
 
Fianna Fail said the result of the leadership ballot was secret but RTE state radio said it understood there were three counts using proportional representation and the transferable vote before Martin was elected ahead of runner-up Eamon O Cuiv, the social protection minister.
 
It said the first count figures were Martin 33, O Cuiv 15, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan 14 and Sports Minister Mary Hanafin 10.
 
After Hanafin's elimination and the distribution of her votes, Lenihan and O Cuiv were level but the finance minister was eliminated on the basis of having had a lower first count figure.
 
Martin said at his press conference that the political system had failed Ireland in recent elections, with parties competing with each other on tax cuts and who could spend the most.
 
"In that sense we were all wrong. I think we have to be honest about that," he said.
"Therefore, there is a need to reform how the Dail (parliament) works... there is a need to look at our governmental system and fundamentally there is a need of course for reform of the public service."
 
The finance bill will go through several more stages of voting on Thursday before moving to the upper house of parliament on Friday and going to President Mary McAleese on Saturday for her to sign.

 

Date created : 2011-01-26

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