Cowen faces fresh calls to quit as PM

Steve Dinneen
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IRISH Prime Minister Brian Cowen looked every inch the defeated man yesterday as he was bombarded from all sides over his handling of the financial crisis that will eventually lead to an expected €85bn (£77bn) bailout.

MPs from all parties, including his own, spent the day plotting how best to bring about his early demise, as fear mounted that the four-year austerity plan, a precondition of the bailout and due to be published today, could be voted down on 7 December.

Brussels showed the first signs it is losing patience with the political upheaval. Olli Rehn, the EU’s commissioner for monetary affairs, told MEPs in Strasbourg: “It is essential that Ireland will pass the budget in the timeline foreseen and certainly sooner rather than later because every day that is lost increases uncertainty. Let’s adopt the budget, let’s get it out of the way, and let’s move on.”

Mutinous backbench MPs from Cowen’s own party were last night plotting a coup against their beleaguered leader. Noel O’Flynn said he felt “betrayed and humiliated” by the PM’s handling of the crisis, claiming there were “no excuses” for the government denying the bailout last week.

Another, John McGuinness, added: “There’s serious discontent within the parliamentary party. It’s now up to those who’ve spoken out to take action to remove that man [Cowen] immediately.”

Opposition party Sinn Fein tabled a motion of no confidence, urging MPs from all parties to force Cowen to fall on his own sword before the key budget vote on 7 December.

The usually combative Cowen was forced to make a series of grovelling phone calls to leaders of the rival parties, urging them not to vote against his austerity budget.

Opposition MPs have demanded to be consulted on the budget, saying Cowen’s party will not be in power to implement it. With a parliamentary majority of just three and a seat almost certain to fall at a by election tomorrow, Cowen is desperate to avoid a rejection of the bill that would plunge Ireland into an even greater fiscal crisis. Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny later urged Cowen to bring the budget vote forward to next week, allowing Cowen to call a general election in January. But the Fianna Fáil leader rejected the calls, claiming it is essential Ireland waits until tax information is collected before the 2011 budget is finalised. If Cowen remains in power until the budgetary process is complete an election is likely to be held in late February at the earliest.