Timeline: Brian Cowen's fight for political survival

Brian Cowen
Image caption Brian Cowen has faced one of the toughest weeks in his political career

Just days after winning a vote of confidence in his leadership by his Fianna Fail party, Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has announced he is standing down as party leader.

But Mr Cowen means to remain prime minister, or taoiseach, through to a general election he wishes to hold on 11 March.

Here is how one of the most extraordinary weeks in the history of Irish politics unfolded.

Sunday 16 January:

Brian Cowen calls a press conference, at which he declares his intention to stay on as Prime Minister following a week of revelations about his personal contacts with former Anglo Irish Bank chief Sean Fitzpatrick.

However, he acknowledges there are concerns within his party regarding his leadership, and announces a no-confidence motion will be tabled on Tuesday.

Two hours later the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheal Martin, announces he will vote against his party leader and also tenders his resignation, which Brian Cowen refuses to accept.

Irish PM to stay as party leader

Monday 17 January:

The Minister for Finance, Brian Lenihan, declares his support for Brian Cowen ahead of the no-confidence vote, while his brother and Minister of State, Conor Lenihan, says he will vote against Mr Cowen and brands him a "dead man walking".

Former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea also admits he will not support the party leader.

Deputy Prime Minister Mary Coughlan and the rest of the cabinet declare they have confidence in Mr Cowen. Chief Whip John Curran says Mr Martin has no support.

Brian Cowen challenger has no support

Tuesday 18 January:

Brian Cowen wins a vote of confidence at a Fianna Fail Party meeting.

Micheal Martin, who opposed the motion, announces that Mr Cowen has now accepted his resignation. It appears Brian Cowen will lead Fianna Fail into the next election.

Irish PM survives confidence vote

Wednesday 19 January:

Mary Harney announces she will not contest the next general election and that she has tendered her resignation as health minister.

Brian Cowen later confirms three further front benchers, Dermot Ahern, Tony Kileen and Noel Dempsey, have also resigned. All three Fianna Fail members had already announced they would not be standing in the next election.

Mr Cowen takes on the role of foreign minister following Mr Martin's departure from the cabinet.

Cowen takes on Foreign Affairs portfolio

Thursday 20 January:

John Gormley, the Green Party leader and environment minister, hears on RTE radio that the ministers have tendered their resignations and phones Mr Cowen.

It emerges the Irish prime minister plans a cabinet re-shuffle and wants to appoint back benchers to the vacant ministries in a bid to increase their profiles. The Green Party meets to discuss the proposed appointments.

Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe also confirms he is stepping down. Mr Gormley insists he had no idea the ministers would resign.

Later, Mr Cowen tells the Dail the reshuffle will not go ahead and hints that the Green Party has blocked his plans. He doubles the portfolios of existing ministers to cover the vacant positions.

Mr Cowen announces a general election will take place on 11 March.

Conor Lenihan calls on Mr Cowen to resign.

Irish PM announces 11 March election

Friday 21 January

Fianna Fail parliamentarian Mary O'Rourke calls on the issue of Brian Cowen's leadership to be revised. She had voted in favour of Mr Cowen at Tuesday's meeting.

Meanwhile, the taoiseach presses ahead with plans to enact the Finance Bill, which puts into law measures announced in the budget. It is expected to be published on Friday afternoon.

Brian Cowen due at North-South meeting

Saturday 22 January

Mr Cowen announces he is stepping down as Fianna Fail leader but means to continue running the government until the election on 11 March.

The focus of the election should be policy, not personality, he tells reporters.

He admits to continuing turmoil in his party, saying: "I'm concerned that renewed internal criticism of Fianna Fail is deflecting attention from this important debate."

Cowen steps down as Fianna Fail leader

Sunday 23 January

The Green Party announces it is pulling out of the Fianna Fail-led ruling coalition, depriving it of its majority.

The move makes it likely Mr Cowen will be forced to call an early general election, and could also imperil an important Finance Bill which is needed to be passed as part of Ireland's EU-led financial bail-out.

Ireland's Greens quit government