THE Taoiseach was forced into an embarrassing apology as he desperately tried to rescue a reputation left seriously damaged by a late night drinking session and claims that he was drunk on air the next morning.
After one of his most senior ministers said the episode was “damaging” and called on Brian Cowen to “reflect” on the fallout, the Taoiseach said he hoped he still has the support of his Cabinet colleagues.
Following 36 hours of sustained public criticism, Mr Cowen said: “I want to assure people that there is no disrespect intended and certainly make sure that something like that wouldn’t happen again.”
He admitted his interview on Morning Ireland during the Fianna Fáil conference in Galway “wasn’t the best interview because of the hoarseness in my voice”.
Mr Cowen said the interview followed a “confluence of events” but insisted there was “no basis for the assertions” that were made by political opponents that he was either drunk or hungover on air. “I want to emphasise that at no stage would I ever entertain disrespecting the people in terms of the office that I hold.
“The assertions that were made subsequent to it were without justification, were without foundation, were not correct, were not true.”
During a Cabinet meeting yesterday morning, Mr Cowen acknowledged to his colleagues that he had let them down and said he was sorry for the controversy.
Earlier, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin, who is considered by many as a potential successor to Mr Cowen, publicly criticised his leader saying, “It wasn’t the best interview” and that he would have to “knuckle down”.
As news of the interview travelled to 450 news outlets in 26 countries across the world, Mr Martin said the episode was damaging: “This is not good, the way it’s playing out. There’s no question about that and the fact that it has gained so much momentum is not good,” he told Newstalk.
Mr Cowen’s apology on RTÉ’s Six One news followed a day of public outrage during which 77% of over 24,000 people who took part in a 10-minute Liveline radio poll said they did not have confidence in him to lead the country or the Government.
Accepting that his radio performance was poor, Mr Cowen said last night: “I would hate to think that the reputation of the country or the office of the Taoiseach would in any way be affected by what I had to say.”
Fine Gael’s Simon Coveney last night said he did not regret his claim on the morning of the interview that Mr Cowen was “somewhere between drunk and hungover” but that he now accepts the Taoiseach’s version of events. “It takes a big person to apologise in the circumstances in which the Taoiseach finds himself. I totally accept what he has to say and fair play to him for doing that.”
Labour leader Eamon Gilmore said it was “yet another example of a confused response” by the Taoiseach. Speaking at a parliamentary party meeting in Roscommon, he said: “I think there is a sense in the international community now that not only does Ireland have zombie banks but we also have a zombie government and that the sooner we get it out of Government, the better.”
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