Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen has announced he is quitting politics and will not contest the next election.

He made the announcement before a selection convention for his party’s election candidates in County Offaly. His brother Barry will replace him on the ticket.

Cowen lost the leadership of the Fianna Fail party last week but has continued as caretaker Prime Minister, a role he will continue in until the new government is sworn in following the up-coming election. The date of the election is expected to be February 25.

Cowen after consulting with his family he decided to leave politics, despite efforts by party members to have him stay on. “Everyone in the Fianna Fail party would like to see me stand again”, he said but that after “holding the highest office in the land” he felt it was time to go.

His career comes to a premature end at just 51 years old. A protege of former Prime Minster Albert Reynolds he was long tipped as a future party leader and Prime Minister.

Son of a former politician, he held the portfolios of Health, Finance and Foreign Affairs and others. However, his election as Prime Minister in 2008 came just at the moment that the Irish economy was collapsing. He was blamed for his role in leading Ireland from a position of economic strength into last November's ignominious request for a bailout from the EU and IMF.

He also was accused of drinking too much, a charge he hotly contested.

Known as affable in private and a great mimic he was incredibly popular when first elected but the economic woes soon sank his leadership.

He will retire with a pension estimated at $5,000 a week

He thanked all who had supported him during his career, and said that he regarded his experiences in politics to be a “great privilege”.