Cowen's statement in full

Cowen, flanked by Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and chief whip John Curran, making the announcement in Dublin this afternoon.

The full text of Taoiseach Brian Cowen's announcement at the Merrion Hotel in Dublin this afternoon:

"I have an abiding commitment to and respect for the Fianna Fail party, its history and traditions.

I have a deep affection for the Fianna Fáil organisation and the Irish men and women who give selflessly of their time in promoting our party and its efforts to build a better Ireland.

I know that the membership of Fianna Fáil the length and breadth of Ireland are concerned about the party’s prospects at the next election.

I too share those concerns.

I announced earlier this week that the General Election will be held on 11th March next. Fianna Fáil, the Republican Party, will set out its stall before the people of Ireland. I want the party to be in the best possible position to fight that campaign as a united organisation, fully supporting the leadership of Fianna Fáil.

At this crucial time, when decisions and choices have to be made by the people about the future of our country, the focus should be on what policies the political parties are offering rather than on the narrow focus of personality politics.

I am concerned that renewed internal criticism of my leadership of Fianna Fail is deflecting attention from these important debates.

Therefore, taking everything into account, and having discussed the matter with my family, I have decided on my own counsel to step down as Leader of Fianna Fail.

My intention now is to concentrate fully on government business and on continuing to implement the Recovery Plan.

My decision will allow the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party elect a new leader to contest the General Election and ensure the party fights that campaign in a united and determined manner, free from internal distraction.

We must remember that Fianna Fail’s big fight is with our political opposition, not with ourselves.

The people deserve a full, honest plan from all parties as they contemplate their choices in this election.

The centre-piece of our strategy for the immediate period ahead is the Four Year National Recovery Plan.

Fianna Fáil is offering a detailed plan which learns the lessons of the past and will:

- Revive the economy and restore the public finances

- Deliver jobs

- Fundamentally reform politics and government

The core belief of the Fianna Fáil Party is that the people of this country can rise to any challenge that faces us, when we muster the collective determination to do so.

We are a nation comprised of citizens with an abundance of talent, skill, spirit and endeavour.

We are proving that we can compete and succeed. By sticking with the policies that will work, we can fashion a great future for our people.

We must cast off the shroud of negativity.

We must regain our national perspective and drive on with confidence and courage.

The Fianna Fáil Party is the best political vehicle to achieve those aims.

In the coming weeks, we will spell our vision for the future.

We will set realisable objectives.

We will advance our democratic republicanism.

We will galvanise the peace and

We will give hope to our young people who can direct their idealism to national purposes.

I am grateful for the unstinting support of my colleagues throughout the entire Fianna Fáil organisation at every level. I appreciate their loyalty and I value their friendship.

I pledge to my successor as Leader of Fianna Fáil my complete support in the task that he or she will undertake in the coming weeks, in particular, and into the future.

And last, but certainly not least, I want to thank my wife Mary, my daughters Sinead and Meadhbh, my mother, brothers and all my family, who continue to be the greatest source of strength and encouragement in my life.

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