SUDDENLY, Brian Cowen cut a chastened, hunted figure – the arrogance of a few hours earlier gone as he stood alone knowing his removal from office was now far closer than he had realised.
Clearly still unable to grasp the full magnitude of how badly he had let down the country – and himself – Cowen nervously whimpered he’d “hate to think” he had damaged Ireland’s reputation and the office of Taoiseach.
But those of us living in the Real World had already come to that damning conclusion Tuesday afternoon when Cowen was still joking he’d be doing more early-morning interviews and did not know what all the fuss was about.
His downcast demeanour and earnest expression told a different story as he repeatedly said sorry on the steps of Government Buildings.
And for someone who swears he wasn’t drunk, Cowen was certainly exhibiting all the characteristics of a classic hangover.
It was a long comedown, but 33 hours after the nightmare before, the realisation finally hit him: “Oh. My. God. What did I do?”
A visibly reduced and politically battered figure, he kept repeating he had not meant to “disrespect” anyone, in phraseology unintentionally redolent of a repentant teenager.
Even this cabinet, so used to existing in a bunker of its own making, had evidently decided this could not continue, they appeared to be accepting Cowen was no longer now even worth keeping on as fall guy for the inevitable electoral kicking of Fianna Fáil faces – knowing his knack for calamity could easily turn defeat into meltdown.
The big beasts had been circling Cowen in Blazers Bar of the Ardiluan Hotel as the Taoiseach drank, sang and joked his way towards a public relations disaster.
Dermot Ahern, Brian Lenihan and Micheál Martin manoeuvred between journalists they hoped to influence, and the exasperated backbenchers whose votes they would need for power. The jockeying for position will now come into play much sooner than they thought as Mr Cowen retreats wounded from centre stage.
If the Cabinet intended to rally behind its troubled Taoiseach it would have refused the media’s enticement to fan the flames threatening to engulf Cowen. But there Martin was, bouncing into Newstalk’s breakfast show – oh, the early-morning irony – to make it look like he was defending the Taoiseach while really twisting the knife into him by despairing at the international damage that had been done and how reflections would need to be made at the very top on this sorry state of affairs.
It didn’t sound like Martin had been up until 3.30am drinking and singing in preparation for the performance that so skilfully destabilised Mr Cowen’s position, it sounded like he’d spent his time sounding out leadership backers to see if this was the right time for a move.
Pressed on when he went to bed that fateful night in Blazers, Martin made it clear it was late enough not to be considered a wimp, but not so late as to be thought a loser the next morning.
The Cowen premiership is now unravelling.
He may survive past a surge tide of Sunday newspaper surprises, he may make it to the return of the Dáil on September 29, but he is now, more than ever, the Tarnished Taoiseach, a lost leader of a nation desperate to be rid of him.
As expected, it all ended in beers.
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