Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has agreed to a confidence vote, challenging party colleagues to back or sack him. Foreign Minister Micheal Martin in turn offered his resignation, saying he will not support the premier.
Cowen decided to stay on, provided his colleagues agree
Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin fuelled a crisis within the government on Sunday, tendering his resignation and withdrawing support from under-pressure Prime Minister Brian Cowen.
Martin believes the best thing would be for Cowen to go
Martin, who is considered Cowen's closest rival for the leadership of the ruling Fianna Fail party, said he would vote against the prime minister, or Taoiseach, in a confidence vote of the party on Tuesday.
Cowen had earlier agreed to the vote on his leadership among his party's parliamentarians, opting not to resign immediately over his handling of the country's financial crisis and personal links with the banking industry.
"I welcome the decision of the Taoiseach to table a motion of confidence in himself at next Tuesday's parliamentary party meeting," Martin told reporters in Dublin.
"I will, in accordance with my views, be voting against the motion of confidence."
Martin said that although he had tendered his resignation, Cowen "had indicated that he believes such a course of action is not necessary."
British broadcasters the BBC and Sky News reported that Cowen had refused to accept the resignation.
After days of consultation with colleagues, Cowen said he believed it was in the best interests of Ireland that he should continue as leader, subject to party approval.
"I believe this to be in the best interest of the stability of the government, the country and our party," he told a press conference in Dublin on Sunday.
Unpopular bailout package
Cowen faces calls for his resignation after his government accepted an 85 billion euro ($113 billion) financial bailout - under terms of strict financial austerity in public spending - from the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to address the country's growing budget deficit.
The collapse of Anglo Irish precipitated Ireland's sovereign debt crisis.
He is also blamed for failing to put the brakes on a property boom, the subsequent collapse of which is blamed for many of the country's financial ills, while serving in a previous role as finance minister.
Pressure on Cowen came to a head after it was revealed that he had previously undisclosed contacts with the former boss of Anglo Irish Bank, Sean Fitzpatrick. The collapse of the bank, subsequently nationalized, helped precipitate Ireland's sovereign debt crisis.
Heavy defeat predicted for party
Even if Cowen survives the confidence vote, he and his party are expected to face a heavy defeat at parliamentary elections in March.
Opinion polls suggest Fianna Fail could lose half of its 74 parliamentary seats at the forthcoming poll, ending decades of dominance for the party in Irish politics.
Surveys predict that the center-right Fine Gael party and center-left Labour Party would be likely to form a coalition government after the election.
Author: Richard Connor (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Catherine Bolsover