Cowen resigns as FF leader, but to remain as Taoiseach

Sat, Jan 22, 2011, 00:00

Brian Cowen has resigned as leader of Fianna Fáil but will continue as Taoiseach until a new Government is formed after the general election on March 11th.

Mr Cowen announced that he had stood down at a news conference in the Merrion Hotel, Dublin this afternoon, adding that he alone had made the decision.

“I have decided, on my own counsel, to step down as leader of Fianna Fáil.”

The Taoiseach said he made the decision this morning after making a political assessment of the situation last night.

He said he had spoken to his wife, Mary, and family before making the decision.

He said that he had not been in touch with any senior member of the party about his leadership since his botched attempt last Thursday to shuffle six members of the Cabinet.

He said his party colleagues had given him “time and space” since yesterday to reach his own conclusion on the implications for him and for his party arising from the decision.

He also said the arrangements would be announced later for the rules for the election of a new leader. He said that process would be a short one and would be concluded within a week.

“There will be a very quick leadership contest within a week,” he said. He added that he would not state a personal preference as to who should be his successor.

In a short statement, Mr Cowen said he knew the membership of Fianna Fáil through the breadth of Ireland were concerned about the party’s prospects in the election.

“I share those concerns,” he said. “I want the party in the best possible position to fight that election, he said.

“At this crucial time when decision and choices have to be made…. The focus should be and what policies the parties are pursuing rather than the internal focus on personalities,” he said.

He said the election should be free from interferences and the fight would be with the opposition, not with Fianna Fáil itself.

Asked why he was now prepared to accept a situation where there was a Taoiseach and a separate Fianna Fáil leader, Mr Cowen agreed it was not ideal but said it would be for a short period.

Mr Cowen reiterated that it was the right thing to do and said he had directed attention to what was right for the country.

When questioned about his thwarted effort to effect a mini reshuffle, he defended the decision and denied it was cynical.

“I felt that it was my duty to put in place the best possible team…. It was not a cynical move by me. It was a political act to put in place those people.”

He said that there was a view before the decision – within his party and in some media quarters – that it was a logical and practical step.

He said that view had been hastily revised by those commentators the next day.

Asked would he be contesting the next election, Mr Cowen said he would consult his family and supporters in Laois-Offaly, but added: “I hope to do so”.

This evening, the Green Party said it had discussed Mr Cowen's decision and will hold a meeting tomorrow morning to consider the situation.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny criticised Mr Cowen’s decision to remain as Taoiseach, saying it was a “complete contradiction of his stated position less than a week ago”.

Mr Kenny said unless Mr Cowen sought an immediate dissolution of the Dáil, his party would move a motion of no confidence in the Taoiseach next week.