Irish Government Says Bid To Oust PM Lacks Support

Cowen announced on Sunday he would put his leadership of the ruling Fianna Fail party to a secret ballot, after defying calls by party members to step down before an election. Members will vote on Tuesday whether to keep him as party leader.

So far Martin, widely seen as one of Cowen’s likely successors, is the only member of the cabinet to say publicly that he will “reluctantly” vote against the prime minister. Martin offered his resignation on Sunday but Cowen rejected it.

“I haven’t heard of any other minister backing Micheal Martin at this time,” chief whip John Curran told state broadcaster RTE on Monday.

Analysts say Cowen will probably have enough support within the Fianna Fail parliamentary party to secure his tenure until the election, which is expected to take place in March.

Cowen has been heavily criticised for failing to halt a disastrous property bubble during a previous stint as finance minister, and then generously bailing out banks as premier.

His days as prime minister have been numbered since he was forced to seek an 85 billion euro EU/IMF bailout late last year and he faced fresh calls to step down after revelations emerged this month about meetings he had held with disgraced bankers.

Opinion polls put support for Fianna Fail, which has dominated Irish politics for nearly all of its history as an independent state, at a record low 14 percent.

“The opinion polls come and go and our fortunes go up and down. But Brian Cowen staying in — not just as Taisoeach (Prime Minister) but as the leader of Fianna Fail — is prepared for the battle that will ensue which will be the general election,” Curran said.

Cowen sounded out all 70 members of the Fianna Fail parliamentary party on Friday and Saturday before deciding to call the confidence vote.

Martin, who offered his resignation on Sunday but which Cowen rejected, told state radio on Monday he was aware of some cabinet ministers who shared his view on Cowen stepping down “but it’s for them to make their views known.”

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin are also possible contenders for the party leadership.

Cowen has been heavily criticised for failing to halt a disastrous property bubble during a previous stint as finance minister, and then generously bailing out banks as premier.

FIANNA FAIL WIPE-OUT

Opinion polls put support for Fianna Fail, which has dominated Irish politics for nearly all of its history as an independent state, at a record low 14 percent.

“The opinion polls come and go and our fortunes go up and down,” Curran told state broadcaster RTE. However, he said Cowen was prepared as prime minister and Fianna Fail leader “for the battle that will ensue which will be the general election.”

Noel O’Flynn, a Cowen critic in Fianna Fail, said he would vote against the confidence motion and support Martin. “We’re looking at the possible wipe-out of the party,” he said.

Junior minister Billy Kelleher from Martin’s county of Cork, also said he would vote against the motion and that he had offered his resignation to Cowen, who refused it.

Bill O’Neill, chief investment officer of Merrill Lynch wealth management (EMEA), said investors were less worried about who leads Fianna Fail. “I think they are much more focussed on the colour of the next government … rather than the twists and turns of the leadership debate,” he told reporters. Reuters