Irish Taoiseach Brian Cowen has challenged rebel ministers and backbenchers to vote him out as leader of his ruling Fianna Fail party.
And foreign affairs minister Micheal Martin responded by tendering his resignation and announcing that he will vote against Mr Cowen in a motion of confidence this week as Fianna Fail leader.
After days of intense speculation over his political future, Mr Cowen claimed he has enough support to defeat a self-imposed secret ballot on his political future.
The Taoiseach insisted he was remaining in control of Fianna Fail “in the national interest”.
Mr Cowen said he did not believe his party colleagues wanted a new leader.
“I do not believe it to be in the country’s interests nor do I believe it to be the settled collective view of my colleagues in the parliamentary party,” the Taoiseach said. “Having one line of authority as a Taoiseach and a separate line of authority in political decision making as a leader of Fianna Fail is not in my view a good idea. It could lead to confusion and dilution of authority for the persons concerned.”
The Taoiseach said Mr Martin remained an excellent friend and colleague. Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, a second Cabinet member put up as a potential challenger, said he was glad the Taoiseach had tabled the motion of confidence in his leadership. A spokeswoman for the minister would not be drawn on how he would vote. Mary Hanafin, Tourism Minister and the third likely contender, declined to comment.
Concerns over the Taoiseach’s leadership came to a head in the last week after he was publicly grilled in the Dail on Wednesday on his contacts with former Anglo Irish Bank boss Sean FitzPatrick. Under pressure, he revealed the names of two other business chiefs who joined him and Mr FitzPatrick for a post-golf match dinner in Druid’s Glen, Co Wicklow – Gary McGann, chief executive of Smurfit Kappa, who was a director of Anglo at the time, and Alan Gray, an economist appointed to the Central Bank board by Mr Cowen.
Mr Cowen faced down critics and opponents for the second time in five days with a 10-minute statement on his future in the Alexander Hotel in central Dublin. Flanked by his deputy Tanaiste Mary Coughlan and Government Chief Whip John Curran, the Taoiseach rejected that his Anglo contacts were at issue.
“The issue here is not about that at all,” he said. “All members of the parliamentary party acknowledge my good faith in relation to all of these issues. My standing in the party is not under question in any way.”