Cowen 'committed to improving living standards for all'

The new Taoiseach-in-waiting says he is committed to making Ireland a better place to live when he takes over from Bertie Ahern next month.

Brian Cowen was speaking publicly for the first time since being chosen as the next Fianna Fáil leader this morning.

"We strive to build a country strong and free, with decent living standards for all," he said, "where our elderly are secure and respected and where our young people can look to their future in Ireland with confidence.

"Now, more than ever, in the years ahead, we will work towards making that dream a reality."

The finance minister was earlier publicly unveiled as Fianna Fáil party leader-designate in Dublin and will become head of Government on May 7 when Bertie Ahern steps down.

After introductory remarks in Irish, Mr Cowen told his first press conference that his election as leader of his party was a great honour and the highlight of his political career.

He added: “On a personal level, I am excited by the challenge if somewhat daunted by the responsibility.”

He appeared calm in the full media glare as he identified the economy, the health services and the Lisbon Treaty among his priorities in office.

The Fianna Fáil party is committed to the Northern Ireland peace process and building an all-island economy, he added.

The County Offaly TD, 48, earlier received a standing ovation as he arrived at the Royal College of Physicians located beside the Dáil.

He kissed his wife Mary and eldest daughter Sinead before ascending to the podium.

He is the first leader of Fianna Fáil since Mr Ahern succeeded Albert Reynolds in the position in November 1994.

Mr Ahern announced his shock resignation a week ago over growing public concern about allegations surrounding his 1990s personal finances.

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