Irish PM Brian Cowen's challenger has 'no support'

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin (16 Jan 2011)
Image caption Micheal Martin said the survival of ruling party Fianna Fail was at stake

The Irish government's chief whip says a leading minister's decision to vote against PM Brian Cowen in a confidence vote is not backed by colleagues.

Foreign Minister Micheal Martin says a new party leader is necessary and some other cabinet ministers share his view.

But Chief Whip John Curran said: "I haven't heard of any other minister backing Micheal Martin at this time."

Brian Cowen has resisted calls to step down but has offered colleagues a secret confidence ballot on Tuesday.

The taoiseach, who is also facing an opposition motion of no confidence in parliament, has come under pressure because of revelations of a 2008 meeting with the head of Anglo Irish Bank shortly before he announced a multi-billion euro bank guarantee.

Former Anglo Irish chairman Sean FitzPatrick is still subject to official scrutiny over his role in the bank's collapse and has previously been questioned by police.

Mr Cowen, who came to power in 2008, has denied discussing bank matters at the golf course, insisting he had not done political favours for any financial institution.

His position has come under political pressure since the Irish Republic was forced to seek a bail-out by the EU and IMF late last year.

'Arduous task'

A general election is expected in March and Micheal Martin, a potential rival to succeed Mr Cowen as leader of the Fianna Fail party, said on Monday that he could continue to lead the country but that there should be a new leader to the party.

"The person who becomes leader of the Fianna Fail party in the next while is facing a very arduous and challenging task of rebuilding the party," he added.

Mr Martin told reporters on Sunday that the party's survival was at stake and that he had offered to stand down as foreign minister but Mr Cowen had told him that was unnecessary.

The prime minister said that while Fianna Fail was important, the interests of the country were "paramount".

"As taoiseach my total focus must remain with discharging my duties to the people," he said.

The normal party procedure for removing the leader begins when a quarter of all party MPs sign a notion of no-confidence.

Mr Cowen said he wanted to dispense with those procedures to hold the secret vote of confidence on Tuesday.

Although Fianna Fail MP Noel O'Flynn has called for the party to unite behind Mr Martin, Deputy Prime Minister Mary Coughlan has said she believes in Mr Cowen's leadership.

The chief whip said he believed Mr Cowen would win Tuesday's vote.

"It's a question that the members of the parliamentary party believe that he is the best person to lead this country over the next number of weeks into the general election and he is the best person to lead Fianna Fail into the general election," Mr Curran said.

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