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* Brian Cowen to step down as FF leader, remain Taoiseach
* General Election still set for 11 March
* Cowen to decide whether to contest Laois/Offaly after consulting with colleagues and family
* Brian Lenihan, Micheál Martin, Éamon Ó Cuív and Mary Hanafin will be candidates for Fianna Fáil leadership

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Live updates:

2247 Have you found this week's political events all too much to take in?

Take a look at our multimedia timeline to chart how this extraordinary week has unfolded.

2116 David McCullagh: The big question now is how long will Brian Cowen continue as Taoiseach.

Pressure is mounting from the Opposition to get the Finance Bill out of the way and bring the date of the election forward.

And as far as the Fianna Fáil leadership goes, there could well be more candidates yet to declare - perhaps from the younger Ógra Fianna Fáil generation.

Who that new leader will be is to be decided early next week - the Greens will meet tomorrow to consider their position on Mr Cowen's announcement - and whether they are prepared to continue in Government with a Taoiseach who no longer leads his party.

2115 Willie O Dea has confirmed to RTÉ News that he will be supporting Micheál Martin in the Fianna Fáil leadership contest.

2056 Brian Cowen's return to Offaly this evening was unsurprisingly much more low key than his homecoming after he was elected Taoiseach.

Locals in Tullamore watched his news conference this afternoon- many were surprised with his decision.

Brian Cowen is no longer Fianna Fáil leader, his future as Taoiseach is drawing to close and many in Offaly are now asking if he will continue to represent them in the Dáil after the General Election.

2036 Government Chief Whip John Curran has accused the Opposition of ‘cynical political posturing’.

In a statement, Deputy Curran said: ‘Labour and Fine Gael have spent most of the last year attacking what they claim is the failure to properly review financial legislation.

‘The provision of a significantly reduced debate on the Finance Bill, which Deputy Kenny has already sought in his recent letter, should surely be welcome.

A better use of Fine Gael and Labour's time would be for them to actually talk to each other and show the people what it is they propose to do if they are in government.

‘Until they do this, all we are seeing is another attempt at cynical political posturing.’

2020 Mary Hanafin has confirmed that she will be putting her name forward for the leadership of FF.

2009 David McCullagh: Even if the Greens decide to remain in Government until the Finance Bill is passed - there are indications this evening that the coalition faces defeat in the confidence vote.

If the Greens continue supporting the Government, it has 79 votes (71 FF - including Eamon Scanlon, not including Ceann Comhairle), 6 Greens, Jimmy Devins (a FF TD outside the parliamentary party) and Mary Harney.

The Opposition has a minimum of 79 votes (51 FG, 20 Labour, 5 SF, Finian McGrath, Maureen O'Sullivan and Noel Grealish).

If there is a tie, the Ceann Comhairle would use his casting vote in the Government's favour.

Assuming there are no abstentions, the Government needs to secure the support of at least two of the wavering Independents to retain the confidence of the Dáil.

[N.B. 79 Govt + 79 Opposition + 4 Independents + 1 Ceann Comahirle + 3 vacant seats (Dublin South, Waterford and Donegal NE) = 166]

2007 A few Independents have spoken out on the day's events. Michael Lowry said that he and Jackie Healy Rae had discussions this evening on the unfolding political situation.

Both will vote against the Climate Change Bill - making it certain the Bill will not be passed.

He said they were 'acutely conscious' of the fact their votes could now determine the survival of the Government and the passage of the Finance Bill and are assessing the situation.

Fianna Fáil TD Mattie McGrath said he will have 'great difficulty' supporting the Government in the confidence motions due to 'the hames' it made of events in the past few days.

1943 'I will not be in a position to support the Government in the motions of No Confidence this week,' says Joe Behan.

'I call on the Government to bring forward a shortened version of the Finance Bill to be passed in the Dáil on Tuesday and then call an immediate General Election.'

Bryan Dobson: Greens meeting tomorrow - a statement of their intentions will be eagerly awaited.

1929 'I have a certain view of what the party should stand for, has stood for in the past and particularly what it shoud stand for in the future...the ordinary people. I believe it has to represent the ordinary people of Ireland, their values and expectations,' - Éamon Ó Cuív

1907 Speaking on Nuacht TG4, Éamon Ó Cuív confirmed he will be a candidate for the Fianna Fáil leadership.

'The is now a vacancy and it's important that there be a contest between people with different visions for Fianna Fáil.'

1853 It seems Sinn Féin would be willing to join Fine Gael and Labour in fast-tracking the Finance Bill through all stages of the Dáíl by Friday.

The party's Justice Spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh said that it may be essential to bring an end to, what he called, 'the chaos' of the current Government.

1850 Labour TD Roisin Shortall says that her party is willing to push through the Finance Bill if it meant an immediate General Election was called.

The party's Social and Family Affairs Spokesperson says that if the Bill is the only concern keeping the Government in power, then they would help in dealing with it in a short space of time.

She says the Government is imploding and has no moral authority.

1846 Minister of State Dara Calleary says he has not decided yet who he will be supporting in the leadership contest. He says he has to consult with party members in Mayo.

1835 Éamon Ó Cuív has confirmed to Raidio na Gaeltachta in the last few minutes that he will be standing as a candidate in the FF leadership contest.

1833 'It's time to think of our poor country, which is losing international reputation by the day,' - Michael Noonan

1827 Paschal Sheehy: A week is certainly a long time in politics: Last Saturday Micheal Martin was Minister for Foreign Affairs; by Tuesday night he had relegated himself to the backbenches through his resignation; and this afternoon he laid out his stall to be the next leader of Fianna Fáil.

1824 Conor Lenihan says he will consider becoming a candidate for the leadership if the membership is 'not being offered a fulsome choice'.

1822 Mary Coughlan tells Six One: 'It's unfortunate that the Greens found themselves in a position where they could not support the naming of new ministers to Cabinet.'

'We have a number of very very important issues to address.'

She says at this time she is not considering contesting the leadership of Fianna Fáil.

1820 Rules for the FF leadership contest: Any Fianna Fáil TD may be nominated to contest for the position of Party Leader.

Nominees should be proposed and seconded by a Fianna Fáil member of Dáil Éireann

Nominations must be received by the Party Chairperson before 1300 on Monday 24 January 2011.

A special meeting of the Fianna Fáil Parliamentary Party will be convened at 1400 on Wednesday 26th January at the Party Rooms, Leinster House, Dublin to elect leader.

The meeting will be opened by the Party Chairperson who will confirm the nominees for the position and call for them to be formally proposed and seconded.

Brian Cowen will address the meeting before all nominees are invited to address the meeting.

A roll call of electors will be read, ballot papers will be distributed and a secret ballot will follow.

1818 David McCullagh: My understanding is that Eamon Ó Cuiv is likely to be a candidate for the Fianna Fáil leadership.

The key thing that is going to affect the decision of TDs is - who's most likely to save their seats?

1811 In the last few minutes, Minister of State Dara Calleary confirmed he will be supporting Micheál Martin in his bid to be leader of Fianna Fáil.

1755 In Brian Cowen's home constituency of Laois/Offaly there has been mixed reaction to today's announcement, according Fran McNulty.

1746 On the RTÉ Radio News Special - Roisín Shorthall tells Conor Lenihan his position is 'laughable.' He responds by saying her position is laughable. That debate continues here

1739 Bryan Dobson: Confirmed guests for Six One - Mary Coughlan, Michael Noonan, Roisin Shortall & Aengus Ó Snodaigh.

Watch live here from 1800

1736 It is understood that Eamon Ó Cuiv is likely to declare his candidacy for the Fianna Fáil leadership live on TG4 News at 1900.

1734 David McCullagh: For anyone who is interested, the Constitutional provisions relating to the Taoiseach and his possible resignation/replacement are as follows:

Basically, an outgoing Taoiseach (like other members of the Government) continues to carry out his or her duties until a successor has been appointed by the President, on the nomination of the Dáil.

In the event of the Taoiseach's death, permanent incapacity or 'temporary absence', the Tánaiste shall act in his/her place until a successor is appointed.

1728 Bryan Dobson (@bryansixone): On Six One News this evening: the FF leadership; three deaths in Tipperary car crash; & Saturday sports news

1724 The main Opposition leaders are saying that they have some sympathy for the Taoiseach on a personal level.

But both Fine Gael and Labour are pointing to Brian Cowen's comment this week that it would not be a good idea for him to remain as Taoiseach if someone else was leader of Fianna Fáil.

1721 Brian Dowling: We have to take Brian Cowen's statement today at face value. Realistically he had to know and understand the mood within his core group of supporters.

The question Brian Cowen had to face was, could he sustain his leadership over the period to election?

Ultimately this week was enormously damaging to Fianna Fáil .

1716 Noel Dempsey says the resignation of Brian Cowen is an opportunity to rebuild and renew the Fianna Fáil party.

'The selection of a new leader next Wednesday is the most immediate and important part of this process.'

1709 Speaking in Cork this afternoon, Micheál Martin paid tribute to Brian Cowen for taking what he described as a courageous decision.

Mr Martin said said he had the 'energy, passion, commitment and appetite' to lead Fianna Fáil into the General Election and beyond.

1701 Willie O'Dea has decided on the candidate he'll be supporting in the leadership contest - he's just not saying who.

He did however say that he was surprised at Brian Cowen's decision.

1700 RTÉ Radio Special webcam live now

1650 Brian Lenihan will be a candidate for the leadership of Fianna Fáil, his spokesperson has confirmed

1642 Lucky for some? The following 13 TDs are now behind Micheál Martin: Noel O'Flynn, Chris Andrews, Timmy Dooley, Sean Haughey, Billy Kelleher, Michael McGrath, John O'Donoghue, Ned O'Keefe, Peter Power, Sean Ardagh, Michael Fitzpatrick, Michael Ahern.

1638 The Green Party will meet tomorrow morning to consider the situation arising from Brian Cowen's resignation.

In a statement, the party said its TDs and Senators 'have discussed' Mr Cowen's decision.

1633 David McCullagh: As soon as a news conference in a Dublin hotel was announced earlier this afternoon - at just an hour's notice - it was clear what was about to happen.

Just yesterday, Brian Cowen committed himself to leading Fianna Fáil into the election and beyond - so what changed in 24 hours?

Mr Cowen said it was still his view that the party leader and the Taoiseach should be the one person - but had accepted that was no longer possible.

Political developments over the next few days will determine if the planned election date of March 11th will stand.

1625 Edging closer to a decision, Conor Lenihan says he will consider putting his name forward as leader of Fianna Fáil if he feels 'the voices of younger and fresher people are not being represented.'

Mr Lenihan added that he would only do so if he was approached by members of the party.

He will be 'looking to hear what various candidates have to say.'

1623 Waterford FF Deputy Brendan Kenneally is glad the Taoiseach has taken the opportunity to resign. He says he feared another week of turmoil and strife for the party.

However he added that he was not declaring for any leadership candidate at this stage.

1616 'There is an incredible split within Fianna Fáil,' says Donegal North East TD Niall Blaney.

He also said the Greens must take 'their share of responsibility' over the Taoiseach's resignation.

1613 An RTÉ Radio Special Programme will begin at 1800 - You can watch a live webcam here from that time

1607 After what she described as today's 'bombshell,' Fianna Fáil's Mary O'Rourke is not declaring who she will support in the leadership contest.

She said she did not know if her nephew, Brian Lenihan, would contest the leadership - she will be making no further comment on the matter.

1600 Micheal Martin builds on his early lead. He gets a 12th declaration of support - this one from Michael Fitzpatrick.

1559 David McCullagh: All is changed, changed utterly. In the coming General Election campaign all the attention will be on the new leader of Fianna Fáil - not the Taoiseach.

1557 Conor Lenihan has said he has no particular preference at this time as to who should now lead Fianna Fáil.

Mr Lenihan says he will now be putting across his own views as to what direction the party should take and he would be taking ‘a leadership position’.

Asked whether he would consider putting his own name forward as party leader Mr Lenihan said he would evaluate that option.

He said he had not given active consideration to the question.

1555 Micheál Martin support update: 10 TDs: Noel O'Flynn, Chris Andrews, Timmy Dooley, Sean Haughey, Billy Kelleher, Michael McGrath, John O'Donoghue, Ned O'Keefe, Peter Power and Sean Ardagh.

1540 As expected, Cork North Central TD Noel O'Flynn is 'delighted' with Brian Cowen's decision.

He said he was heartened at the number of TDs who are coming out in support of Micheal Martin's candidature.

O'Flynn thinks the former Foreign Affairs Minister has shown 'true leadership' in the past week.

1535 Martin Mansergh now on RTÉ One criticising the Taoiseach's decision to try to appoint new ministers.

1531 Eamon Ó Cuív is saying nothing for the time being... He has refused to be drawn on whether he would put his own name forward as a candidate for leader.

He said he accepted the Taoiseach's decision to resign as leader of Fianna Fáil, and said that the good work he had done for the country would be recognised in time.

1529 Fianna Fáil's Michael McGrath said it wasn't helpful to have the Finance Bill 'hanging in the air'.

He said it was in the national interest to get it passed and then have a debate on the future of the country.

1524 A few details... Nominations for the Fianna Fáil leadership contest must be received by party chairperson John Brown by 1pm on Monday. Any Fianna Fáil TD can be nominated to contest for the position of party leader.

Nominees should be proposed and seconded by a Fianna Fáil member of Dáil Éireann.

The new leader will be elected at a special Fianna Fáil parliamentary party meeting at 2pm on Wednesday.

The election will be by secret ballot.

1522 Micheál Martin support update: Noel O'Flynn, Chris Andrews, Timmy Dooley, Sean Haughey, Billy Kelleher, Michael McGrath, John O'Donoghue, Ned O'Keefe, Peter Power, Sean Ardagh.

1518 What do you think? Have your say here

1517 'What will it take for these people to prise their hands off the levers of power?' Labour's Alex White wonders...

He says there has been a complete loss of public dignity

1514 Speaking on RTÉ, FG's Leo Varadkar said that 'this is all just Fianna Fáil trying to save a few seats.'

He said this is a circus and a disgrace and 'what we need now is to have an election.'

1513 The full text of Brian Cowen's statement here

1510 The past week has been an 'unusual' one in Irish politics John Curran Tells RTÉ News.

He said Brian Cowen was conscious of the fact that the party had an election to fight and that rumblings about his leadership were not of benefit.

1508 Sean Haughey and Sean Ardagh have declared support for Mr Martin.

Ardagh says he would favour Michael Martin as Leader with Mary Hanafin as Deputy Leader.

1503 Chris Andrews has now joined the calls for Micheál Martin.

'Fianna Fáil must now elect a new leader. I believe that Michael Martin TD is the person who should now lead Fianna Fáil and I will be supporting his candidature should he put his name forward.'

1455 Cork South Central FF TD Michael McGrath has called on FF TDs to unite behind Micheál Martin - and to elect him uncontested.

1453 John Curran says he was surprised that the announcement happened in such a timely fashion this morning

'All parties are committed to enacting the Finance Bill.'

1450 Labour - which is to table a motion of no confidence in the Government on Tuesday - says 'the Irish people do not want this government to remain in office for another single day.'

Eamon Gilmore said today's announcement now means that a general election simply cannot be deferred any longer.

1447 Enda Kenny ups the pressure: 'The Taoiseach's attempt to remain as Head of Government despite losing the confidence of his own party is another sad example of Fianna Fail putting their own survival ahead of the country's survival.'

The FG leader says Mr Cowen should go to Áras an Úachtarain to seek the dissolution of the Dáil immediately.

'If he refuses to do so, Fine Gael will move a motion of no confidence in Brian Cowen as Taoiseach in the Dail on Tuesday.'

1445 The Sinn Féin President - who also has his eye on a seat in Louth - says the announcement will lead to further instability.

'The Government and Fianna Fáil are in chaos. Their focus is not on the problems facing the country. The Taoiseach needs to call an General Election now. It's time to let the people have their say,' says Gerry Adams.

1438 Chief Whip John Curran will have discussions with the Parliamentary Party chairman in the next hour to decide process for replacing FF leader.

1437 Support grows...Cork East TD Ned O'Keeffe has again declared his support for Micheál Martin.

1435 Peter Power has been quick to respond to the news - he will be backing Micheál Martin to be leader of Fianna Fáil

1430 David McCullagh: It has been a complete roller coaster. It is only three days since Mr Cowen was in the Dail chamber with a fresh mandate.

And then it went horribly wrong with that botched reshuffle

1428 Mr Cowen said whoever would succeed him was a matter for the parliamentary party. He said Fianna Fáil would now enter a process which would be outlined this afternoon to elect a new leader. He said whoever that was would have his full support.

1424 With reference to his attempt to appoint new Ministers last week, Mr Cowen said he believed it was his duty to put in place the best possible team he could to fight the election and to put them on the front bench - to give them a stake in the election and to make them accountable.

He said that it was not a cynical move by him.

1421 The Taoiseach says he believes the Government will win the confidence vote to be tabled on Tuesday by the Labour party.

He said that he will decide whether to contest the General Election in Laois Offaly in consultation with his party organisation.

1417 The Taoiseach says he spoke with Green Party leader John Gormley within the last 40 minutes.

'My decision won't in any way affect Government business.'

1416 Mr Cowen said that he had not been in touch with any of his colleagues and that he had made the decision on his own counsel.

'It is the right thing to do for the party.'

1414 Bryan Dobson: Will one of the journalists ask the Taoiseach if he will run in the general election?

Brian Cowen says that a united party is - in his view - the most important thing going into the General Election.

He said he had done 'the right thing' given the events of the week.

1411 Asked when he had made his decision, the Taoiseach said it was only when he went home last night.

Mr Cowen said he discussed the matter with his family, and made a political assessment of the situation, that he decided to come up this morning and make this announcement.

1408 Speaking at the press conference in Dublin, Mr Cowen said he had made this decision on his own counsel.

He thanked his wife and family for their support.

1407 'We must regain our national perspective'

1405 Brian Cowen tells reporters that 'the people deserve a full honest plan from all parties'

1405 Brian Cowen has announced he is standing down as leader of Fianna Fáil.

1403 Brian Cowen speaks of his respect for the history of Fianna Fáil, and says he shares the concerns of those worried about the future of the part.

1400 Taoiseach Brian Cowen has begun his address at the Merrion Hotel.