BRIAN COWEN’S denial he gave a radio interview while drunk provoked worldwide attention last night and raised questions over his leadership.
A gruff, partially-slurred performance on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland drew international headlines and sparked withering opposition scorn.
Asked about whether he was drunk on the programme, Mr Cowen said: “I’m sorry, absolutely not. That’s ridiculous. It’s not true at all. Really, that’s uncalled for.”
Major news organisations like the Wall Street Journal and the BBC flashed the story across the globe after Fine Gael TD Simon Coveney said the Taoiseach sounded “halfway between drunk and hungover”.
Mr Cowen angrily dismissed the claim as a “pitiful new low in Irish politics” as questions about his drinking dominated the final day of Fianna Fáil’s parliamentary gathering in Galway.
However, Fianna Fáil national executive member Jerry Beades noted “public outrage” at the interview, adding: “The problem is that, with the exception of Brian Lenihan and Mary Hanafin, there is no one to replace him and that is the problem for the party.”
Social networking sites and radio phone-ins erupted with comments on Mr Cowen’s strange-sounding performance on RTÉ in which he mixed-up the Croke Park pay deal with the Good Friday Agreement and appeared confused regarding political funding proposals.
Fine Gael finance spokesman Michael Noonan insisted the interview raised concern about the Taoiseach’s leadership of the country.
“There’s a feeling that this can’t continue, the game is up,” he said.
Mr Cowen had been drinking with Cabinet ministers and members of the media in the bar of the Ardilaun Hotel until about 3.30am yesterday before going on air with RTÉ at 8.50am. The Taoiseach performed an impromptu comedy routine for fellow revellers in the bar, as well as singing The Lakes of Pontchartrain.
When pressed whether he was worried that, generally, he drank too much, Mr Cowen replied it was good to have “moderation in everything, especially in moderation, as the old Chinese proverb says”.
The Taoiseach insisted his groggy-sounding interview had been due to a “hoarse” voice and he accused Fine Gael of trying to damage him.
“I’m very sorry that Deputy Coveney would resort to that sort of petty, personality-type politics, which I find disgraceful,” he said.
Cabinet members publicly rallied to Mr Cowen’s defence, with Transport Minister Noel Dempsey insisting there was nothing wrong with the Taoiseach staying in the bar so late. “I think everybody is entitled to some socialisation. I’m not going to start being a babysitter for the Taoiseach. The Taoiseach is a big boy, he’s well able to handle himself.”
Labour’s Roisín Shorthall said the RTÉ interview raised “serious alarm bells” about Mr Cowen. “It was one of the most inept and unconvincing interviews ever given by a Taoiseach in the history of the state.”
Mr Cowen’s denials of being drunk were picked up by US, European and Asian newspapers, as well as broadcasters, such as Fox News and CNN.
ON THE DEFENCE
“The Taoiseach was very hoarse. It seems to me that’s what the issue is now about, that the Taoiseach is hoarse.” — Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin
“The Taoiseach was hoarse this morning. I have a frog in my throat most mornings. Is that a problem?” — Transport Minister Noel Dempsey
“He was hoarse and groggy and congested early in the morning, which does happen an awful lot of people.” — Tourism Minister Mary Hanafin
“Mr Cowen’s voice was nasal and hoarse. But apart from that, I think he was quite forcible.” — FF TD and former minister Mary O’Rourke
“The studio was the corner of a restaurant, with the clattering of knives and forks and teapots and all sorts of stuff. It was a factor.” — Defence Minister Tony Killeen
“Perhaps he did sound a bit groggy but I understand he has a cold.” — Seán Haughey
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