First time FF will have separate leader and taoiseach

Mon, Jan 24, 2011, 00:00

PRESS CONFERENCE:FIANNA FÁIL will for the first time in its history have a different party leader and taoiseach as members following the resignation of Brian Cowen as party leader, but not as head of government.

Announcing his decision to resign as uachtaráin (president) and leader, Mr Cowen said: “I am concerned that renewed internal criticism of my leadership of Fianna Fáil is deflecting attention from . . . important debates.

“Therefore, taking everything into account and having discussed the matter with my family, I have decided on my own counsel to step down.”

At a packed and hastily called press conference at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin on Saturday, Mr Cowen also created significant doubt about whether he would stand as a candidate in his Laois-Offaly constituency in the general election.

“I’ve made one big decision today which is to step down as uachtaráin Fianna Fáil. I will of course consult my organisation and family on that matter but I would certainly hope to do so.”

He added: “My intention now is to concentrate fully on Government business and on continuing to implement the recovery plan.”

The party under a new leader could fight the general election campaign “in a united and determined manner free from internal distraction”.

Until his weekend announcement, he insisted he was determined to lead the party into the election, despite his failed attempt to appoint new ministers on Thursday.

He said on Saturday, however: “When I went home last night and discussed it further with my family and made a political assessment of the situation, taking everything into account, that I came up this morning and I decided I’d take the decision and take it for the reasons I’ve given.”

He had not been in touch with any of his senior party colleagues before he made the decision, he added. “I’ve been left the time and space to deal with these issues myself.”

Asked about his attempted Cabinet reshuffle, he said: “I have to take responsibility and I’ve done that because our internal party matters will now be under leadership.

“We need to move forward together. It’s not me. The party’s much bigger than me. We must remember that Fianna Fáil’s big fight is with our political opposition, not with ourselves.”

However, he insisted he would “continue in my role as Taoiseach as I have before”.

Asked about being Taoiseach but not party leader, Mr Cowen acknowledged it was not “the ideal situation but we will manage the situation. Clearly this will not be in our tradition. This is the first time this has happened within the Fianna Fáil party.”

He added: “I can assure you that I will direct my attention to my government responsibilities as Taoiseach and the new leader of Fianna Fáil will prepare for and move forward the organisation for the campaign itself.”

The Government “will discharge its duties properly and appropriately”.

The Taoiseach said that as a matter of courtesy he rang Green Party leader John Gormley about 15 minutes before Saturday’s press conference. “I informed him of my decision. I emphasised of course that this does not relate to our governmental responsibilities.”

He added that “my leadership of the Government is as before and will be to the end of our term. This is an internal party matter that I am resolving by way of decision today.”

He denied there had been dissent and division within the party.

“What people saw was a very civilised public and private debate about serious political issues regarding the biggest political organisation in the land and it reflected very well on the party in the way in which it was conducted.”