Irish PM defies his party's call to step down

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The Independent Online

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen resisted pressure yesterday from ruling Fianna Fail party members to step down as leader, after criticism over his relationship to disgraced bank executives put his political future in doubt.

There had been growing speculation that a motion of no confidence could be proposed against Mr Cowen or that he could be asked to resign as party leader after Fianna Fail hastily postponed a meeting of its members of parliament by three hours.

"He is going to talk to members individually over the next few days to address their concerns and to ascertain what is in the best interests of the party," a source said.

Opposition parties have accused Mr Cowen of failing to disclose meetings with Anglo Irish Bank's chairman, months before the scandal-hit bank was nationalised at huge taxpayer cost. Mr Cowen, whose tenure has been marked by a financial crisis that forced Dublin to resort to a €85bn bailout from the EU and IMF, has said he will set an election date after the final Bill underpinning Ireland's harshest budget on record is passed next month.

Polls show Fianna Fail, which has dominated politics for nearly all 90 years of independence, heading for a crushing defeat and being replaced by a coalition of centre-right Fine Gael and centre-left Labour.