Calls grow for Premier Cowen's resignation

Ireland, already teetering on the brink of an economic collapse, was on Monday plunged into a political crisis after the government's decision to accept a European Union financial bailout triggered calls for a snap election in January amid calls for Prime Minister Brian Cowen's resignation.

The Green Party, a partner in Mr. Cowen's Fianna Fail-led coalition, said the people of Ireland felt “betrayed” and the situation demanded political certainty. With six MPs, the party holds the balance of power in Mr. Cowen's fragile coalition and were it to pull out the government could fall.

Its leader John Gormley, also Minister in the government, said: “The past week has been a traumatic one for the Irish electorate… People feel misled and betrayed. We have now reached a point where the Irish people need political certainty to take them beyond the coming two months. So, we believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011.”

There was no immediate reaction from the government but pressure was mounting as supporters of the opposition Sinn Fein tried to force their way into a government building to demand Mr. Cowen's resignation.

The decision to accept the bailout came amid growing fears that Ireland's problems could spread to other Eurozone countries. Mr. Cowen, who had previously insisted that the country could manage the crisis on its own, confirmed he had agreed to a joint EU/IMF package and a formal process of negotiations would commence.

“I expect that agreement to be finalised shortly, within the next few weeks,” he said.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan sought to play down the size of the package saying it would be less than €100 billion. Britain, which has a huge stake in Ireland's economic stability because of its reliance on Irish market, announced a separate loan of about £7 billion.

“Ireland is our very closest economic neighbour so I judged it to be in our national interest to be part of the international efforts to help the Irish,” Chancellor George Osborne told the BBC as some Tory MPs questioned the wisdom of helping Ireland when Britain's own economy was in crisis.

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