‘I am not on probation. I am the elected leader of our party’

THE Taoiseach and his Finance Minister produced a highly unorthodox show of unity to try to convince the country and their Fianna Fáil colleagues it was business as usual in Cabinet.

Just seven days after the parliamentary party was about to begin their fateful night of frivolity in Galway, Taoiseach Brian Cowen attempted to finally shut down the worst political hangover in recent history.

To hammer this home, he brought with him Brian Lenihan – the minster the weekend newspapers suggested was poised to take over the Office of the Taoiseach if Mr Cowen resigned.

“That is the real story from here this evening, from this place, is that the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance and all of our colleagues are working on the people’s behalf to get us through the challenge we face at the present time,” Mr Cowen said.

The occasion was ostensibly billed as a briefing on the routine pre-budget meeting between Mr Cowen and Mr Lenihan.

But that facade was torn down by the timing, on the eve lenders would be asked to give Ireland more money; the place, on the steps of Government Buildings; and the protocol, with two men given space and podiums.

This was a desperate effort to quell unrest in the Fianna Fáil party and reassure international investors the country was not on the brink of political upheaval.

It took until after his brief statement on the Government’s economic priorities before the actual issue on the agenda was addressed.

The Taoiseach was asked:

“Will you resign from office?”

His response was confident and bullish.

“No. I have the full support of all my colleagues. I am grateful for that. We have a job of work to do. The people out there in country want to see this Government get on with the work,” he said.

Mr Cowen then dropped the pretence altogether. And, after a week in which he slowly came to terms with the gravity of his mistake on Morning Ireland, he dealt with his own political fate head on.

He and Mr Lenihan had not told the rest of the Cabinet or the other potential candidates for the leadership of the planned address in advance of the briefing.

This was the man in charge flanked by the minister the bookies and the public expected to oust him.

“I am speaking to the Irish people as Taoiseach. I want to make sure everyone understands that they have a Government that has a working stable majority that will do its work as it has been doing it before.

“It has policies that have received support both internationally and we have to, we need to, continue to persuade at home the priorities we have identified are the right priorities for the country,” Mr Cowen said.

The two men standing shoulder to shoulder happened on the day Ireland’s interest rate for borrowing hit a record high, as lenders showed increasing doubts about the country’s ability to recover on its own steam.

Later today, the National Treasury Management Agency will attempt to borrow at least €1 billion to fund the country’s day to day business.

Mr Lenihan said it was a serious allegation to suggest the political unrest, following the Taoiseach’s performance on RTÉ in Galway, had resulted in higher borrowing costs.

He said international banks lend money to this country for four and five years terms and did not factor in changes in political leadership.

“They take a long view. They are not influenced by minor political disputes that have no bearing on economic decision making,” Mr Lenihan said.

He said the only rumblings that concerned him were those in the global financial markets.

Mr Cowen accepted the affair was not necessarily over. He recognised malcontents such as former junior minister Tom Kitt could drum up support to raise the matter at next week’s parliamentary party meeting.

However, he laid out his warning shot to those who might move or speak out against him.

“I am not a Taoiseach on probation. I am the elected leader of our party. I have the full support of my Government colleagues.”


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