Cowen Calls Irish Party Leadership Vote, Says He Is `Confident' of Victory

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen said he’s “confident” that in ballot tomorrow he will retain the leadership of the ruling Fianna Fail party and lead it into the nation’s next general election.

Fianna Fail parliamentary members will decide by secret ballot whether Cowen remains party leader, and thus prime minister, he told a press conference in Dublin yesterday.

“I’m confident of the outcome” of the party ballot, “and I intend contesting the elections as leader of Fianna Fail,” Cowen said.

He made his announcement after spending two days consulting with colleagues following criticism of his links with Sean FitzPatrick, the former chairman of Anglo Irish Bank Corp., which was nationalized in 2009.

He said in a broadcast interview that he had the backing of Finance Minister Brian Lenihan.

“Brian lineman has been totally supportive, Cowen said in an interview with broadcaster RTE, adding that he expects to win a “ringing endorsement” of his leadership from the party.

Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin wants Cowen to go before the coming national elections, the Sunday Business Post said yesterday, without citing anyone.

Foreign Minister Micheal Martin said in a news conference in Dublin last night that Fianna Fail should change leader before the next election. He said he offered his resignation to Cowen, and that the prime minister “has indicated that he believes such a course of action is not necessary.”

‘Continuing Decline’

Martin said his action followed a “continuing decline” in the party’s popularity “post Christmas,” and the fact that there is no organization in the party for the coming election. He said he would be interested in the leadership and that he has the experience to lead the party.

Environment Minister John Gormley has said March 25 would be a reasonable date for the general election. In an interview with Dublin-based RTE radio on Jan. 4, he said the final decision on the election date rests with Cowen.

Under Cowen’s leadership, unemployment has doubled, and the government was forced to seek an international bailout as the nation’s banks came close to collapse.

“As Taoiseach, my total focus must remain with discharging my duties to the people,” Cowen said today. “For Fianna Fail the party is important, but the interests of the country are paramount.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Dara Doyle in Dublin at ddoyle1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mike Harrison at mharrison5@bloomberg.net

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