Belfast Telegraph

Martin quits and warns Fianna Fail leadership still at risk

Micheal Martin last night insisted the leadership of Fianna Fail still was "at risk" as he resigned from Cabinet after leading the opposition to the Taoiseach Brian Cowen in a crucial confidence vote.

He informed Mr Cowen of his decision to quit as Foreign Affairs Minister when the Fianna Fail parliamentary meeting concluded last night and the Taoiseach's victory was revealed.

Mr Martin insisted he had no regrets about his decision to lead the opposition to Mr Cowen in a motion of confidence. And he said the leadership of Fianna Fail was still at risk following the vote.

"Obviously it still is at risk and I think we all, coming out of this, have to work far more energetically to ensure that there is a strong party in the next Dail," Mr Martin said.

The former foreign affairs minister said Fianna Fail needs to get 25pc of seats in the next election to have a "critical mass" of deputies that would be an "effective presence in Dail Eireann".

Speaking outside Government Buildings following last night's FF parliamentary party meeting, Mr Martin revealed that during discussions with the Taoiseach at the weekend, the two men agreed that an immediate resignation could have a destabilising effect on the Government.

"However, I was clear that I would insist on my resignation if my views did not prevail in the vote. I have therefore tendered my resignation as Minister for Foreign Affairs," he said.

"The Taoiseach continues to have my support as head of Government and I will actively support him as our leader during the upcoming election campaign."

Mr Martin said that resigning was "the proper thing to do", having said he did not have confidence in Mr Cowen as leader of Fianna Fail.

He insisted he would support the Taoiseach in the imminent general election "whole heartedly", despite his criticisms of his leadership in recent days.

"One has to make a stand and one has to force the issue in terms of the debate. It's been a very healthy debate and a very good debate," Mr Martin said.

He insisted he did not want other junior ministers, who supported him to follow his lead by resigning. One of the positive consequences of not following through on his offer to resign last Sunday was that others felt they could speak out freely, Mr Martin said.

The leadership debate was "free of personal rancour", and had been "mature" and "positive" in arriving at a definitive conclusion.

The minister further claimed the issue of the leadership was now closed and the focus must now turn to retaining as many seats as possible in the imminent election.

Following last night's vote, there is a renewed sense of energy and commitment and the party will now move forward "united behind our leader".

The former Education, Health and Foreign Affairs Minister refused to be drawn on why other senior ministers failed to back him in the leadership debate.

The leadership contender was reported to have given a "mighty", "brilliant" and "electrifying" speech by Fianna Fail TDs.

He spoke for just 10 minutes after the Taoiseach delivered a comprehensive speech lasting over 30 minutes.

From the outset, Mr Martin failed to attract any public support from a senior minister, with Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin last night remaining the only minister who failed to publicly declare for either camp.

Mr Martin did, however, attract support from former Defence Minister Willie O'Dea and junior minister Billie Kelleher.

During his media blitz since Sunday, the Cork-based minister won support from backbencher such as Michael Kennedy, Tom Kitt, Noel O'Flynn, Michael Moynihan, Ned O'Keeffe and Michael McGrath.

But the numbers pledging public support for Mr Cowen far outweighed those in the camp of Mr Martin.

Ramping up pressure on the Taoiseach ahead of last night's vote, Mr Martin said the management of the International Monetary Fund intervention was a "watershed moment".

This, he said, had led him to question Mr Cowen's position.

He revealed that disgruntled Fianna Fail backbenchers had started to approach him last year amid concerns about the levels of unpopularity the party was enduring and Mr Cowen's stewardship of the party.

Belfast Telegraph

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