Deputies, ministers and journalists swirl around one another late into the night and early morning across the party conference hotel bar exchanging news and gossip — the press and politicians seeking either stories or publicity in an informal, laid-back atmosphere impossible to recreate back at the Dáil.
TDs on tour tend to let their guard down — not to mention their hair — as the annual pre-season “think-ins” roll around the country in the run-up to the new Oireachtas term commencing.
All political parties like to party on such occasions, but the heady mixture of power and heavyweight personalities has always given Fianna Fáil an extra edge.
Cut to 3am yesterday morning at the Blazers Bar at the Ardiluan Hotel, as the Irish Examiner makes its excuses and leaves the melee. The Taoiseach, three senior Cabinet ministers and about 25 deputies, senators and members of the media remain.
Brian Cowen, who had moved onto lager following his pre-dinner glasses of water, would stay for about another half-hour — and the consequences of that decision may haunt him for the rest of his career.
A couple of hours earlier, at about 1.30am, the grumpy, defensive figure he so often casts across TV screens was nowhere to be seen as Mr Cowen held the small, crammed, wood-panelled bar transfixed with a mixture of stand-up comedy and mimicry.
As if on stage, he stood on a raised platform by a piano surrounded by about 100 onlookers as he relayed a well-received story about golfers Philip Walton and Des Smith playing in the Ryder Cup.
As the long night of revelry wore on, others would take the limelight, with Brian Crowley tackling Billy Joel’s Piano Man and the Taoiseach singing along robustly as Deputy John Cregan attempted Raglan Road.
Mr Cowen went solo for a rendition of Christie Moore’s The Lakes Of Ponchartrain — but the next time he was heard in public was his now legendary performance on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.
Similar displays of drink-fuelled drama played out at Fine Gael’s parliamentary meeting in Waterford last week and will, no doubt, do so again at Labour’s Roscommon get-together tonight.
What made Blazers Bar a moment in time is that the nation would be listening to the Taoiseach as the sun rose over the Ardiluan — and the whole world would soon by sniggering at him.
Ironically, Fianna Fáil are very frosty when it comes to media relations and refuse to allow journalists to stay in the main conference hotel with them, presumably one of the reasons being that they don’t want the press noting what’s going on in the residents’ bar until all hours. But now the Taoiseach’s gruff — and to use Sean Haughey’s phrase — “groggy sounding” interview — has blown the covers off the drink-in culture.
Mr Cowen’s linguistic lurch through several tortuous minutes in which he appeared to be unravelling before our eyes as he confused the Croke Park pay deal and the Good Friday Agreement before stumbling through the rest of the exchange, his rusty voice rough-hued, turned the event into car crash radio.
TV3’s news-seeking human missile Ursula Halligan then took him down with a well-aimed question about whether he’d been drunk on air. The Taoiseach scurried away, denying the charge — and when he finally reappeared three-and-a-half hours later he packed the room with TDs and senators who booed when the media dared ask if he thought he had a drink problem and clapped when he said he did not.
The heady highs of Blazers Bar had come crashing back to earth — maybe the Taoiseach should have paid more attention to the final line of Raglan Road as he sang along: “A creature made of clay/He’ll lose his wings at the dawn of day.”
simoncoveney: God, what an uninspiring interview by Taoiseach this morning. He sounded half way between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested...
odonnead: If Brian Cowen was a PAYE worker, he’d face disciplinary action after this morning’s performance.
njbennett: Brian Cowen drunkenly slurring his words on Irish morning radio show. Was late and had not eaten his breakfast! A disgrace, he has to go.
HarrysDonal: Brian Cowen drunk on radio, he’s marvellous at installing confidence! These politicians have gone beyond joke.
0Quest0: Listening back to Brian Cowen interview on Morning Ireland this morn. He sounds fine to me — or at least, he sounds same as usual!
paddylogue: I’m no fan, but this Brian Cowen drunk accusation seems a little contrived and bit too easy. Sounded pretty much like he always does.
al_madden: Not a fan of Taoiseach Brian Cowen but don’t think he was drunk r hungover on Radio. Just bad radio feed.
macshaned: Brian Cowen this morning — all about leadership. A real leader on top of his game, who really cared, wouldn’t allow this situation happen.
AlanFarrell: I don’t think the Taoiseach was drunk this morning, I do believe he was hungover and hoarse having been singing into the wee hours.
kencurtin: He was and continues to be a good politician, however he has been a very disappointing Taoiseach.
maevmac: The Minister for Science denies evolution, and the Taoiseach is drunk on air. Ireland is going, not so slowly, to hell.
colmb: Having actually listened to the interview, I don’t get what all the fuss is about, Cowen sounds ok to me...
CllrSimonHarris: Cowen says we have no time for by-elections but he has time to stay up until 4am doing comic impressions.
damianobroin: Seriously. A hungover Taoiseach is the least of our worries just now.