Irish government says bid to oust PM lacks support

Brian Cowen defied calls to resign as head of the ruling Fianna Fail party.

Dublin: A bid by Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin to topple unpopular Prime Minister Brian Cowen as ruling party boss has not attracted the support of any cabinet colleagues, the government`s chief whip said on Monday.

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 EUR 85 billion 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 believes Tuesday`s ballot will bring "finality" to the question of his leadership, he added.

Noel O`Flynn, a Cowen critic in the Fianna Fail party, said he would vote against the confidence motion and support Martin.

"I will be voting no confidence in the leader of the party. I would hope that the vast majority of the party would do also and that we would be down to a leadership contest and that Micheal Martin would emerge as the new leader of the party," O`Flynn told RTE.

"We`re looking at the possible wipe-out of the party."

Bureau Report