Cowen portrait - So busy with drama, what about crisis?

While people may sympathise with someone confronted with an unflattering portrait, it is all part of being in the public eye. The reaction of the authorities to the unflattering portraits of the Taoiseach has therefore been completely over the top.

Having exhibited an alarming degree of political ineptitude in recent months, the Government, it seems, is bent on making an international laughing stock of the country by the high-handed attitude adopted in relation to the whole matter.

The Government press secretary’s complaint to RTÉ about the portraits of Brian Cowen was absurd, and it was even worse that RTÉ apologised. One Fianna Fáil deputy even intimated that Cathal Goan, the director general of RTÉ, should resign over the matter.

This was further compounded when a garda was sent into the Ray D’Arcy’s show seeking the identity of the artist. The presenter had announced that the artist was invited on the programme, but the artist declined the invitation by text. The garda was therefore sent to get the artist’s details from the programme staff.

The garda did not have a warrant, so the programme quite properly refused to co-operate. Normally one should be very slow to refuse such co-operation, but in this case the behaviour of the authorities has been grossly disproportionate. It took gardaí two months to go into the Anglo Irish Bank in search of criminal evidence, but it took them less than two days to go into RTÉ. As a result, the gardaí are being made to look as ridiculous as the Government and RTÉ.

The reasons given for the garda’s actions were that the artists responsible for the two paintings had supposedly behaved illegally on three counts — indecency, incitement and causing criminal damage.

The two portraits were of the Taoiseach above the waist. They might have been unflattering, but they are certainly not indecent, and to suggest otherwise is an insult to everyone in the country who is overweight. One was hung in the gallery of the Royal Hibernian Academy and the other in the National Gallery of Ireland. There is no shortage of nude paintings in either of those galleries.

In one portrait the half-naked Taoiseach is holding an underpants and in the other he is holding a toilet role. What possible incitement could either of those acts be?

The charge of criminal damage — inserting a nail in the wall to hang the picture — is just as ridiculous. Hopefully somebody in each of the galleries had the good sense to ensure the portraits are stored safely for the nation because, in spite of the enormous provocation of recent months, the Irish people have not lost their sense of humour.

The absurdity of the fuss made over these paintings has ensured their notoriety. They are likely to become even bigger public attractions than some of the priceless art works in those galleries.

With the country already on the ropes economically, it is farcical the authorities would take the whole thing seriously. They seem to have lost all touch with reality.


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