Brian Cowen

Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin is ready to challenge Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen for leadership of the Fianna Fail party, the main party in the Irish government, according to newspaper reports.

The Irish Sunday Times reported that Martin told Cowen he would not support him any longer and gave him a week from last Monday to resign. Cowen has refused to do so to date. The Sunday Independent is reporting a similar scenario.

Recent opinion polls show Fianna Fail at its lowest ever ebb because of its handling of the economic situation. A general election is due by late March.

Cowen told his party on Thursday that he was consulting with members of the party before he would make any decision.

If he is defeated by Martin in a leadership contest, it will set up the strange situation where Cowen would likely remain caretaker Prime Minister while Martin would lead the party into the election.

That is because a Prime Minister must be elected by a majority vote of the entire parliament and, given the government’s unpopularity such a vote for Martin, would be unlikely to pass.

The minority party in government, the Greens, has already made it clear they will not elect another Prime Minister before the election.