Minister refuses to back Irish PM Brian Cowen as Fianna Fail leader
Future of party now at stake, claims Micheal Martin
The Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin last night appealed to the heart of Fianna Fail and said it would be "irresponsible" not to act to save its very existence.
But despite expressing no confidence in Mr Cowen's ability to lead his party, Mr Martin will stay in Cabinet -- effectively expressing confidence in Mr Cowen's ability to lead the country.
He offered his resignation from Cabinet but the Taoiseach declined to accept it.
"I did offer my resignation and I felt the best course of action was for me to resign," Mr Martin said. "He was of the view . . . that we should both accept (this matter) was a difference of opinion and that we should resolve it within the confines of the party."
Mr Martin said a string of TDs and ministers had contacted him since the Dail returned after its Christmas break despairing about the poor organisation in the party and the lack of planning for the general election.
"Its very survival is at stake and not to do something is irresponsible," he said. "Our forefathers and many people around the country built this party, it has made a distinguished contribution to the country."
And he insisted he wanted to lead the party only and was not interested in assuming the position of Taoiseach immediately. "I'm not seeking office or the position of An Taoiseach," he said.
He told Mr Cowen last Monday that he should step down as leader and that a change of leadership would help the party in the general election.
Mr Martin maintained that the controversy surrounding Mr Cowen's golfing outing with Sean FitzPatrick had no effect on his decision.
Worried ministers and TDs came to him before the damaging revelations emerged, he said. Nobody had questioned Mr Cowen's integrity but "nothing was being done to arrest" the decline in the party's fortunes and no election campaign was in place.
He had spoken to Mr Cowen on numerous occasions over the past week and welcomed the Taoiseach's decision to table a motion of confidence in himself. He also spoke to Mr Cowen a number of times yesterday and notified Mr Cowen in advance that he was going public with his views.
"I welcome the decision of the Taoiseach to table a vote of confidence in himself at next Tuesday's parliamentary party meeting. I will, in accordance with my views, be voting against the motion of confidence. We have had a very good, honest relationship.
"I have reluctantly concluded that, in these circumstances, Fianna Fail should change its leader before the election and I have informed the Taoiseach of this view.
"Having talked to most members of the parliamentary party and many members of the party across the country I believe this is a widely held view. It's really on the basis of what is best for the Fianna Fail party and for the country into the future."
He said a change of leader would help the party going into the election and claimed he had sufficient numbers to beat Mr Cowen in a leadership contest.
He said he had not moved against the Taoiseach sooner, such as in the wake of the 'Garglegate' fiasco last year, because of the challenges facing the Government, citing the four-year plan, the EU-IMF bailout and the Budget in particular.