Irish Parliament dissolved as Cowen bows out

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Ireland's Parliament was dissolved yesterday for an election on 25 February as Prime Minister Brian Cowen exited the political stage defending his management of the nation's plunge toward bankruptcy.

Mr Cowen declared a formal end to his government two months after he was forced to negotiate a ¤67.5bn (£57bn) loan package from the European Union and International Monetary Fund, a measure he had insisted Ireland did not need.

He told parliament that his two and a half years as Prime Minister "have been a time of great trial and test. I believe we have worked hard to correct past failures and to secure the future recovery of our country."

At the end, only his long-ruling Fianna Fail party – expected to suffer a battering of historic proportions in the election – stood to applaud him.

Mr Cowen agreed to an early election, rather than trying to serve his full term to mid-2012, after suffering a string of humiliations and losing his parliamentary majority last month.

On Monday, Mr Cowen, 51, announced his retirement from politics after a 26-year career. He became Ireland's first sitting prime minister not to seek re-election to parliament. Twenty of Fianna Fail's other MPs have taken the same decision, fuelling speculation that the party – which has won the most seats in every election since 1932 – faces an unprecedented defeat.