Irish PM Brian Cowen survives confidence vote as expected

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen won a second confidence vote in just over a year on Tuesday, as expected, benefiting from feuding within opposition ranks.

The vote was called by cabinet in response to a call for a no-confidence motion made by the opposition Fine Gael party, following publication of two reports that criticised government policies in the run-up to Ireland’s banking crisis.

Cowen won by 82 votes in favour and 77 against thanks to the votes of his junior coalition partners, the Greens, whose support has hardened in recent months to help stabilise Cowen’s narrow parliamentary majority.

However the sacking by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny of his own deputy, who sought to depose him following unfavourable popularity polls, instead dominated Ireland’s headlines.

“The shenanigans in Fine Gael has put him, if anything, in a stronger position,” David Farrell, professor of politics at University College Dublin, said of Cowen, whose former role as finance minister was brought into focus by the banking reports.

“Unless the Greens pull the plug, he (Cowen) is as stable as they can be at this stage.”

While Ireland has been praised by investors for pushing through some of the earliest and sharpest fiscal reforms in western Europe, both Cowen and his Fianna Fail party have remained hugely unpopular throughout its deep recession.

Successive polls have also shown Fine Gael’s Kenny not to be a credible successor and other parties bemoaned the disruption caused by his party’s infighting.

Kenny, who dissolved his party’s front bench after nine members said they did not have confidence in him, will face a motion of confidence in his own leadership on Thursday.

“Today should have been the day when the spotlight was solely on an appalling Fianna Fail-led government which has been exposed as the principal cause of the recession in Ireland,” said Caoimhghin O’ Caolain, parliamentary leader of the small opposition Sinn Fein party.

“Instead the pressure has been taken off one set of incompetents, Fianna Fail, by the political ineptitude of another set of incompetents, Fine Gael.”

Additional reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Mark Heinrich