Taoiseach caught up in F-word controversy

BIFFO’S back. After two weeks of restraint since becoming Taoiseach, Brian Cowen’s bruising side resurfaced yesterday when he was caught referring to an unidentified party as “those f**kers”.

Mr Cowen last night expressed regret for any offence caused, but refused to make clear exactly whom he was talking about. A spokesman for the Taoiseach would only say Mr Cowen had not been referring to Fine Gael.

That left the National Consumer Agency, a handful of other state agencies, British high-street retailers or oil companies as the other possible targets of Mr Cowen’s anger.

The controversy arose following heated exchanges in the Dáil yesterday morning.

FG leader Enda Kenny raised the subject of funding which had been allocated for specific health care services but not spent. Mr Cowen immediately went on the attack in his response, saying FG had failed to support health service reform.

When that provoked heckling from FG TDs, Mr Cowen rounded on the party’s health spokesman, Dr James Reilly, whose heckling appeared to be a particular source of irritation.

“If you keep that tactic up, I’ll make sure that he won’t be heard in this house,” Mr Cowen told Dr Reilly in a reference to Mr Kenny. The FG leader promptly rose to his feet, declaring: “I’m not going to take that from any member of this house. You will not silence the FG party or any member of the FG party.”

When the row had died down, Labour leader Eamon Gilmore raised the subject of consumers being “ripped off” by two groups: British retailers with Irish branches who refused to reflect the euro’s value against sterling, and oil companies charging “inexplicable” sums for diesel.

Mr Cowen said Tánaiste Mary Coughlan would meet this week with the National Consumer Agency to discuss the sterling issue, and that other state agencies had responsibility for the diesel issue.

Moments later, during a lull in Dáil business, a live microphone picked up an unguarded conversation between Mr Cowen and Ms Coughlan.

Mr Cowen appeared to say: “Ring those people and get a handle on them, will ya? We’ve seen those f**kers...” before his voice trailed off.

But FG initially believe the remarks had been aimed at it and Mr Kenny criticised the “bully boy” tactics of Mr Cowen.

But Mr Cowen’s spokesman last night insisted Mr Cowen had not been talking about FG. He also stressed that the Taoiseach would not be apologising to the Dáil.


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