Cowen retains control of Fianna Fail
Cowen retains control of Fianna Fail

Taoiseach Brian Cowen tonight retained control in Dublin of the ruling Fianna Fail party after winning a motion of confidence in his leadership.

Cowen saw off a challenge from Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin and will head the party in the upcoming general election.

Voters are expected to go to the polls in late March, with Cowen likely to suffer a crushing defeat, according to the latest opinion polls.

Seventy-one TDs voted in the secret ballot after a near three-hour meeting in the party rooms in the Dublin parliament.

In a brief statement a party official said: “The Fianna Fail parliamentary party has voted confidence in the leadership of An Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD.”

Cowen said he was pleased with the result, although the numbers who voted in favour and against the motion were not disclosed.

He said he had a discussion with Micheal Martin after the meeting and that Martin had tendered his resignation. Cowen said he had “reluctantly” accepted it and he thanked Martin for the way he had conducted the campaign.

The Taoiseach said the economy was facing the greatest crisis it had seen in 80 years but did not acknowledge any role in precipitating the crisis.

He said the party had been fighting for the country.

“The party is very determined to face into the electoral contest very proud of the fact that we have done what’s necessary for the country. It’s never the wrong time to do the right thing, as I’ve been saying,” Mr Cowen said.

“We have been fighting for this country and fighting for its people, for its very survival, for its sustainability against one of the greatest economic and financial crises we have seen in over 80 years. We want to also, of course, set out for the public the future for our country.”

Speaking outside Leinster House afterwards, Martin said he was not interested in “tearing anyone down”. He said there was no doubt the party now had a “renewed sense of energy” in bringing its message to the people. He believed it had been a “very healthy debate and a very good debate” free of “personal rancour”.

Earlier, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan incurred the wrath of some Fianna Fail backbenchers this lunchtime by expressing his support for Cowen. Martin’s supporters insisted he had privately campaigned for Cowen’s ouster.

Pundits tonight suggested the Fianna Fail ‘heave’ had come too close to the election for the party to consider a change of leader.

Commenting on the outcome of the vote of confidence, the Sinn Fein Dail leader Caoimhghin O Caolain said “it matters little who is leader of Fianna Fail.

“What matters is who governs and how they govern and this Fianna Fail vote only serves to prolong for two more months the tenure of this disastrous Government.

“Fianna Fail TDs have had their say and voted in secret ballot but Fianna Fail and the Greens are denying the people their say in what should be an immediate General Election.

“On the very day of the Fianna Fail vote the Government was drawing down IMF funds totalling 5.8 billion euro, a week after drawing down the first 5 billion euro from the EU.

“This is the working out of the sell-out IMF/EU deal, the result of this Government’s disastrous banking policy -- a policy that has seen a manageable State debt being merged with a colossal and unmanageable private banking debt. People are being impoverished as a result and our public services are being destroyed.

“For these reasons there should be an immediate dissolution of the Dail and a General Election.”

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