23 Jan 2011

Irish PM steps down as ruling party leader

10:57 am on 23 January 2011

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has announced his resignation as leader of the ruling Fianna Fail party but will continue to run the government until the 11 March general election.

Mr Cowen won a secret ballot on his leadership on Tuesday, but the BBC reports he was forced to call the election after a bungled cabinet reshuffle.

The prime minister says he has deep affection for Fianna Fail and wants it to be in the best position to fight the election campaign.

"The focus should be on what policies the political parties are offering, rather than on the narrow focus of personality politics", he said.

Mr Cowen's ratings have fallen sharply amid the economic crisis in the Irish Republic, which accepted a bail-out package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund last year.

It is the first time a politician has sought to remain as Taoiseach (prime minister) while not leading the main party of government, the BBC says.