Fianna Fail is expected to receive a hammering in the election from voters angry at the state of the economy [EPA]

Brian Cowen, the Irish prime minister, has announced a general election for March 11, after a string of resignations by ministers sparked protests from his coalition partners.

Cowen set the date on Thursday after suffering a humiliating climbdown in his plans to replace five ministers who had resigned from his cabinet with new politicians from his Fianna Fail party.

The prime minister, who won a confidence vote over his party leadership on Tuesday, did accept the resignations of his ministers overseeing justice, health, trade and enterprise, defence and transport.

But he was forced to transfer responsibility to other existing members of his cabinet rather than to newly promoted politicians, thus avoiding the need for a parliamentary vote.

Coalition partners, who normally support his government, refused to back the reshuffle, putting his government on the brink of collapse and prompting Cowen to announce the election date.

Economic crisis

Fianna Fail party is expected to receive a hammering in the election from voters angry at its handling of the economic crisis that left the country crippled by debt-ridden banks, and forced it to call in international loans.

Cowen said on Thursday that outstanding budget laws, which are key to an $114bn bailout package agreed with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, would be passed before the election date.

"Prior to the general election we are committed to enacting key pieces of legislation to secure Ireland's economic future," he said.

Cowen said his government's policies had put Ireland on the path to recovery and economic growth.

"I want us to get through the hard times and see the country prosperous in the future," he said.

The premier agreed in November to hold an election after the budget laws were passed, following pressure from the Green Party, which props up Fianna Fail in the coalition government.

His announcement of a date follows further pressure from the Greens.

They were angered by the resignations of the cabinet ministers, claiming it was an attempt by Cowen to force a reshuffle and promote some of his party's up-and-coming stars so they can raise their profile ahead of the vote.

Source: Agencies