Fianna Fáil TDs endorse Cowen's leadership in ballot

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Brian Cowen has tonight accepted the resignation of Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin after the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party endorsed the Taoiseach’s leadership in a secret ballot.

Mr Cowen said he was pleased with the result of the confidence motion and that he accepted Mr Martin’s resignation “reluctantly”.

Government chief whip John Curran announced shortly after 9.15pm that the motion had been passed following a three and a half hour meeting, at which 18 party members spoke for and against the Taoiseach, and a ballot of Fianna Fáil’s 71 TDs.

Speaking outside Leinster House, Mr Curran declined to reveal the result of the ballot. But he said he believed the party was now united behind Mr Cowen and that the issue of his leadership and been “clearly and definitively” dealt with.

Mr Martin said “one has to make a stand” and that he respected the decision of his colleagues in the parliamentary party. He said Mr Cowen now had his full support.

“We go into this election as a united party behind our leader,” Mr Martin said. “I will actively support him as our party leader during the upcoming campaign.”

Speaking outside Leinster House, Mr Martin said he was not interested in "tearing anyone down" and that he had no doubt the party had a "renewed sense of energy" in bringing its message to the people following a "very healthy debate" free of "personal rancour".

Mr Martin said he and the Taoiseach has agreed at the weekend that his immediate resignation would have had a destabilising impact on the Government but that he had insisted he would resign if his views “did not prevail”. He added that it was an honour to have served in the Cabinet.

Mr Cowen told RTÉ that he and Mr Martin would remain good colleagues and that he would seek to use Mr Martin's talents and abilities whatever way he could in the forthcoming election campaign.

He said the party had been fighting for the country and its economy in the face of the greatest crisis it had seen in 80 years.

"The party is very determined to face into the electoral contest very proud of the fact that we have done what's necessary for the country. It's never the wrong time to do the right thing, as I've been saying," Mr Cowen said.

Mr Cowen said the four-year plan the Government had put in place would "revive our fortunes" and would provide improvements in standards of living and increased job opportunities. "We are absolutely determined to put that case."

Mr Curran said the meeting had been held in a business-like manner and that there was “no bad feeling” within Fianna Fail.

He said Mr Cowen had not made promises but addressed the challenges the party faced. He said he did not feel the challenge to Mr Cowen’s leadership had weakened Fianna Fáil but rather strengthened its position.

“People walked out as friends,” he said. “This party is not divided.

Prior to the meeting, Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan endorsed the Taoiseach, saying he was the "best person to lead the party into the election" even though he had shown "lapses in judgment".

A number of Fianna Fáil backbenchers said they were surprised at Mr Lenihan's comments and claimed he had been conveying a different message to them in recent weeks.

Carlow-Kilkenny TD and former junior minister John McGuinness claimed Mr Lenihan had encouraged "dissent" among party members and had expressed an interest in becoming leader of the party himself.

Kildare South TD Séan Power earlier said he would be "surprised and shocked" if Mr Lenihan offered his backing to the Taoiseach.

Dublin North TD Michael Kennedy also claimed Mr Lenihan had led people to believe that he was in favour of a change of leadership.

“Any discussion I’ve had with Brian Lenihan he has shared my own view that our poll ratings were very disappointing,” he told Today FM’s Last Word programme.  “I never asked directly ‘will you challenge Brian Cowen’ but I would certainly have been of the view that Brian Lenihan would like to be the leader of Fianna Fáil.”

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