DUBLIN, Oct 1 (Reuters) - A majority of voters want Irish
Prime Minister Brian Cowen to step down from his post before the
next general election, a poll showed on Friday, and new data
showed the country's brief economic upturn weakening further.
Cowen and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan disclosed on
Thursday that Ireland faces a bill of up to 50 billion euros
($68 billion) to clean up its banks, revealing the country faces
tougher than expected further austerity drives as a result.
Ireland officially exited two years of recession in the
first quarter before shrinking again in the following three
months. The third quarter did not look much better after
manufacturing activity shrank for the first time in seven months
The NCB Purchasing Managers' Index, which measures the Irish
manufacturing sector, fell sharply to 48.4 from 51.1 in August,
dipping below the 50 mark separating growth from contraction for
the first time since February. [ID:nSLAUKE6EB]
The government has insisted the overall trend was still
pointing to economic stabilisation after an unprecedented plunge
in 2009 but investors worry slower-than-expected recovery will
threaten plans to cut Europe's biggest budget deficit.
Only a growing economy will generate the tax revenues
needed, alongside spending cuts and tax hikes, to reduce a debt
mountain that will swell to 99 percent of GDP this year from 25
percent prior to the crisis, as a result of Thursday's bank
The government's budget deficit will blow out to 32 percent
of Ireland's economic output this year, more than 10 times EU's
3 percent cap and by far the worst in the union.
Voters have long lost faith in Cowen and the Irish
Times/Ipsos MRBI poll showed 61 percent of them think he should
resign before the next general election, due in 2012 but likely
to be held before then.
The poll showed 29 percent thought he should remain in place
and 10 percent had no opinion.
Cowen may only have a few months left to cede to their
demands with his wafer-thin majority in parliament almost
certain to be wiped out once by-elections are held to fill three
lower-house seats in the first four months of next year.
If Cowen was to stand down as leader of Fianna Fail and
Prime Minister, 39 percent of those polled would like to see
right-hand man Lenihan take over with Foreign Minister Micheal
Martin a distant third, backed by 18 percent of voters.
Some from Cowen's own party have also called for him to step
down, particularly after he embarrassed them last month by
conducting a radio interview the morning after partying late
with colleagues. [ID:nLDE68D0JY]
However, no senior minister seems set yet to mount a
challenge and most analysts see both Cowen and the government
lasting until December's budget when they will have to push
through over 3 billion euros of new cuts.
Fears Ireland will follow Greece by turning to its European
Union partners and the IMF for help abated after the government
cancelled all bond auctions for the rest of the year,
highlighting the fact that a growing but well-structured debt
portfolio means there is no impending liquidity crisis.
International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn
does not expect the euro rescue fund to be activated due to
Ireland, he was quoted as saying in a German newspaper on
(For scenarios for what could trigger the government's fall
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin, editing by Mike Peacock)