A YEAR SOME WOULD PREFER TO FORGET

2010 was a disastrous one for Taoiseach Brian Cowen, but he is far from alone, writes Shaun Connolly, Political Correspondent

SOMETHING, ANYTHING, COWEN ACTUALLY DID WELL THIS YEAR

ERM, well, there was the time he . . . but no that ended in disaster. And then he did that other thing, oh, but that ended in disaster as well.

Erm, something he did well?

Got it! The Taoiseach did a brilliant impersonation of golfer Philip Walton during his 3am cabaret routine in Blazers Bar at the FF parliamentary party Monday night “drink-in” in Galway in September.

Everyone present thought it was a right hoot....oh, but then he went on Morning Ireland a few hours later sounding incoherent and slurring while mixing up the Good Friday Agreement and the Croke Park Deal and thus brought worldwide ridicule down on Ireland, so that ended in disaster as well, really...

TWEET OF THE YEAR

FINE Gael’s Simon Coveney summed up the thoughts of many RTÉ listeners with: “God, what an uninspiring interview by Taoiseach this morning. He sounded half way between drunk and hungover and totally disinterested.”

The tweet was soon buzzing its way around the world and Mr Coveney must have been initially Twitting himself that he’d end up with the blame for besmirching the country’s reputation, but lame FF attempts to make Coveney the villain of the piece quickly backfired as Brian Cowen — after a graceless attempt to laugh-off the incident — was forced into making a humiliating apology on national TV the next day.

BIFFO: THE BEERS OF A CLOWN

FOR someone who swore he was not drunk, Brian Cowen certainly exhibited all the characteristics of a classic hangover the next day.

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 went on the Six One News and kept repeating he had not meant to “disrespect” anyone, in phraseology unintentionally redolent of a chastened teenager. But the damage was done with Biffo — and Ireland — even ridiculed on US network TV via the Jay Leno Show. It was at this point Ireland’s bond ratings moved into the crisis zone.

IVOR PROBLEM

IVOR Callely’s rambling stream of consciousness evidence veered between arrogance, self-pity, and the downright embarrassing as he tried to explain away why he claimed €81,000 in travel expenses for his holiday residence in West Cork when his family home is just a few miles from Leinster House.

At one point he compared himself to St Francis of Assisi, before showing how well read he is by musing: “Yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery,” a quote made most famous by the film Kung Fu Panda.

He got a slap on the wrist of a 20-day suspension from the Seanad — which he then challenged in the High Court.

However, gardaí have expressed an interest in why he claimed €3,000 for mobile phone equipment in 2202-2006 by using receipts from a company that ceased trading in the mid-1990s. Curious.

DRAMA QUEEN’S DRAMATIC EXIT:

GEORGE LEE: Quit the Dáil after just eight months because Enda and the big lads were not paying him enough attention. His mantra as he flounced away from Fine Gael could be summed-up as: “Been there, done that, should have been the Taoiseach.”

The ego felt stranded — Lee had blown Dobbo away on the Six One News even more often than he’d outshone Anne Doyle’s garish Newbridge jewellery on the Nine — didn’t this damn fool Kenny know who he was dealing with? Strangely, Lee has yet to be approached to take over a job that adequately befits a man of his stature, such as Secretary General of the UN, or head of NATO.

TONIGHT MATTHEW I’M GOING TO BE... THE REAL ENDA KENNY!

FALL-OUT from the Lee implosion left Enda initially unable to remember who he was before announcing: “From now on I’m going to be myself. I’m going to loosen up a bit.”

But sadly, the “real” Enda proved not to have a range of different poses and personalities like that other plastic blonde, Barbie, so instead of Malibu Enda, Cowboy Enda, or even Bollywood Enda, we ended up with the same old Nice-But-Dull Enda.

BEST JEDWARD IMPRESSION (FOR 11 MONTHS)

THE Fianna Fáil/Green coalition — two seemingly hopeless entities who cling onto each other to achieve some sort of purpose despite annoying absolutely everyone in the process.

SLIP-SLIDING AWAY

NOEL DEMPSEY: As the nation faced into a transport emergency due to extreme Arctic weather in January, the transport minister decided it was time to get going — to a luxury hotel in Malta.

As the Dublin bus system collapsed, main roads were left un-gritted and more than 10,000 people presented at A&E with injuries from untreated footpaths, he swanned off to the Med. “It’s never a bad idea to go on holiday,” he announced, but the attempt at humour was as unnecessary as it was ill-judged as he had already become a national joke by that stage.

As the year ended in similar Arctic conditions, Dempsey announced he was taking a permanent holiday from politics with just his generous pension to keep him warm.

The nation gave a sigh of relief as it skidded down the ungritted pavements to A&E.

CAUGHT IN THE WEB OF HIS OWN MOUSTACHE TRAP

WILLIE O’DEA: He peddled untruths to a journalist about a political rival’s involvement with an alleged brothel, denied he had done so until a tape of the conversation appeared, and then admitted a sworn affidavit he had given to the High Court on the incident was untrue.

And still Fianna Fáil and the Greens voted confidence in him as a minister. It was only his appallingly arrogant conduct in that Dáil confidence debate — when he suddenly claimed a garda had given him the original, untrue, smear information — that finally did for him 24 hours later.

LITTLE GREEN RABBIT IN THE HEADLIGHTS

JOHN GORMLEY: When he was initially unable to absolve his Cabinet partners Fianna Fáil of blame in the toppling of Trevor Sargent from ministerial office after information was leaked to the media that he had tried to influence a Garda inquiry just days after Fianna Fáilers had blamed the Greens for the downing of Willie O’Dea.

LADY RUNS RINGS AROUND THE TAXPAYER

MARY HARNEY: For stretching her St Patrick’s Day trip to New Zealand to a full fortnight as a HSE scandal surrounding misread X-rays raged at home.

Eamon Gilmore said of her gruelling schedule down under: “The itinerary reads more like the Lord of the Rings trail — the only thing missing from it is an invitation for dinner hosted by Bilbo Baggins.”

FINALLY — AN ENDA WE CAN GET WITH

ENDA KENNY: Snooty Blueshirt rebels thought he’d play by the rules and roll over like a wimp when they launched their June coup, but Enda ripped up the rule book, blew away half the shadow cabinet with the ruthlessness of a Mayo Tony Soprano and crushed all opposition to him once and for all (well, as long as the polls don’t dip again in the New Year).

DICKIE’S TRICKY PILLOW TALK

RICHARD BRUTON: When pressed on whether he would make a better leader than Enda Kenny, he babbled bizarrely: “In my pillow, I have those sorts of views.” That loose pillow talk triggered his ill-thought-out and staggeringly amateur coup attempt.

COUGAR-BAITING

FINE Gael TD Noel Coonan on why he shouted “Who’s the cougar?” shortly after visiting Australian legislator Judy Spence was introduced to the Dáil from her seat in the distinguished visitor’s gallery.

“We were just having a bit of fun, me and the fellas beside me, being a bit lighthearted at that stage. Cougar came into my mind. I thought it was an exotic animal, like a tiger. I didn’t know it had a more sinister meaning. The Tánaiste said she was wearing petrol blue so Esso came into my mind — tiger — cougar...”

MOST DIGNIFIED RESPONSE TO “COUGAR-GATE”

MS SPENCE on the ‘cougar’ outburst: “I didn’t hear it — I find it difficult to understand everything I hear in Ireland.”

PRICE OF PRINCIPLES IN NEW LOOK LABOUR

“I’M out of the party, I’ve lost the whip, I’m no longer transport spokesman, I’m off the Public Accounts Committee — oh, and I’ve got to move out of my office too...” Tommy Broughan lists the punishments meted out to him by Eamon Gilmore in July for refusing to go along with Labour’s shameless act of political opportunism in opposing the stag hunt ban to try and build-up its voter-base in the west.

SMS (SAVE MY SEAT) MESSAGE OF THE YEAR

MATTIE “Backdown” McGrath: After so many empty threats to stand up and be counted, the Tipperary TD finally sat down and abstained on the walk-through vote on the stag hunt ban.

DIRTY WORD DOMINATES THE DÁIL

BITCHES: The Dog Breeding Bill saw the stark term used in the Dáil more often than it would be on a hip-hop channel for inappropriate rap videos. Mattie McGrath tried to lessen the impact by saying: “God forgive me...” before every mention of a “breeding bitch”.

Luckily, the publicity-junkie backbencher never broke into a cover of rapper 50 Cent’s classic 99 Problems But A Bitch Ain’t One to get more attention.

Anger at the Bill and FF hatred of the Greens almost brought the Government down in July — that must have impressed the IMF in the run-up to their take-over.

WORST MINISTER

AS always, the most hotly contested title of the year, but Children’s Minister Barry Andrews shades it as the most out-of-his-depth minister in a Government that was sinking throughout the year. One of many low points was describing as “reckless” a newspaper report warning 200 children involved with state care may have died in the past decade. Andrews predicted the figure would prove “utterly, utterly wrong” just hours before the official figures were finally released. The newspaper report was depressingly accurate as the HSE was forced to admit 188 youngsters the state was involved with had died — but only after the dismal farce of the HSE refusing to aid a Government-appointed probe into the matter.

ARROGANCE

BRIAN COWEN: For slapping down RTÉ’s Sean O’Rourke for daring to ask when the many long-overdue Dáil by-elections would be held with the condescending: “Don’t worry about it.” Yeah, it was only democracy Sean, don’t worry about it.

GUNS AND POSES

THOSE who style themselves Sinn Féin have a very poor record at the Four Courts — from the opening salvos of the Civil War in 1922 to the Offences Against the State Act prosecutions — but SF won a landmark victory in November when the High Court ruled the Government was in contempt of democracy for refusing to hold the Donegal South West by-election for the previous 17 months. Victory saw the party storm past FF in some national polls as the Shinners accused the Government of lacking “morality” — quite a claim from a party that not so long ago featured an Armalite riffle in its main electioneering sound-bite.

TWO FACES OF EAMON

DERIDED by critics for looking both ways on major issues, the Labour leader now approaches the challenge of fighting on twin fronts at once as he battles to retain the middle ground won by en-masse public sector defections from Fianna Fáil while checking the rise of Sinn Féin on his left flank. Gilmore has lost momentum noticeably since the IMF crisis

A BUNCH OF FOOLS AND OUR MONEY

THE Cabinet: Suddenly the promised NAMA profit of €4.8 billion turned into a potential loss of €800 million as ministers realised bankers had — surprise, surprise — not been straight with them, oh, and what Lenihan boasted would be the “cheapest bailout in history” will cost us at least €50bn — with Anglo alone devouring at least €34.3bn — but as Lenihan said, “we were all in this together”, so widows, the disabled and carers saw their pensions cut by €8 a week to help out Fianna Fáil’s buddies in the Golden Circle.

GREEN FIG LEAF

JOHN GORMLEY: For at first insisting on an open banking probe and then backing down when Fianna Fáil panicked and said it must hear evidence behind closed doors: “It’s not in secret, it’s in private,” the Green leader explained.

NON-APOLOGY APOLOGY

BRIAN COWEN: Though never identified by name, Mr Cowen’s smouldering — at times economically incendiary — presence burned through the pages of the twin reports into the financial crisis.

The decisions he took as finance minister came in for scathing assessment as neither probe shied away from apportioning blame. His time at the helm was branded a “triumph of hope over reality” and his budgetary decisions strongly attacked. Despite this, Cowen would only admit that successive governments had made mistakes.

Brian Lenihan put the boot into Cowen in a similar way during his budget speech as speculation of a heave intensified.

Again and again Cowen refused to accept blame for the economic calamity he presided over.

MINISTER FOR FICTION

DERMOT AHERN: The ECB had been briefing the financial press and rolling news channels for days it was sick of Ireland’s banking contagion and was about to step-in and collapse Irish fiscal autonomy, but it all appeared to be a surprise to the Justice Minister.

“It is fiction. We obviously have to ignore a lot of this speculation because it is only speculation. We have not applied. There are no negotiations going on. If there were, Government would be aware of it, and we are not aware of it,” he insisted.

Two days later the deal was on the table and still the Government pretended nothing was happening, Central Bank Governor Patrick Honohan had to step in and provide leadership by telling the country the truth as the IMF hit squad landed in town.

The nation felt it had been blatantly lied to and, as a consequence, Fianna Fáil dropped to fourth place in the polls.

PROCLAMATION OF DEPENDENCE

EASTER 1916: The Republic is born amidst bloody sacrifice and chaos — the colony rises to nationhood.

Thursday, November 18, 2010 — the day the Republic died amidst chaos and bloody lies.

A colony once again, this time a dominion of the EU.

MOST OUTRAGEOUS ‘COWEN JUST DOESN’T GET IT’ MOMENT OF THE YEAR

ON the day the Big Lie about the bailout was finally abandoned as the IMF hit squad moved in and the country’ s 88 years of economic independence was surrendered to foreigners, the out of touch Taoiseach declared: “I don’t believe there’s any reason for Irish people to be ashamed and humiliated.”

Well, one Irish person should certainly have felt ashamed that day Mr Cowen.

MEMORANDUM OF SURRENDER

THE Memorandum of Understanding was a moment of national humiliation which sold the next generation into penury with interests rates of 5.8%. We were even forced to borrow €17.5bn of the €85bn rescue package from ourselves by emptying out the Pension Reserve Fund.

Truly, the economics of the madhouse. Weekly reports must be provided to the IMF and EU overlords on Dublin’s spending with our new masters able to turn-off the cash tap if they feel Ireland is getting above its station.

Money markets took the impression that even CoCo The Clown could have negotiated a better deal — unfortunately, Ireland had Biffo the Buffoon fighting our corner instead.

POLITICIAN OF THE YEAR

AJAI CHOPRA — aka The Chopper — installed as our new Governor General — the unelected King of Budget Cuts.

He conquered with surprisingly little resistance, grateful Irish citizens even besieged him for his autograph as they believed nothing could be worse than the present Government.

DIVINE INTERVENTION

GOD. In the final week of the Donegal by-election Social Protection Minister Eamon Ó Cúiv called on people to pray for Ireland. God was clearly listening — the next day the Government collapsed.

SNEAKY GREENS

THE cruel Dáil joke: What do John Gormley and a caterpillar have in common? Answer: They are both Green and spineless — finally became redundant as the junior party walked. But they did it in a typically bizarre way. They decided to leave on the Saturday of the Big Bailout Lie, kept it secret from FF colleagues during two emergency Cabinet sessions the next day, then announced it on Monday after giving only 20 minutes notice to the Taoiseach.

They tried to claim the moral high ground by saying they had not taken part in the Big Bailout Lie — but in reality that was at least partly due to them not being considered important enough to be told what was going on by the Two Brians.

SCARING RYAN’S PRIVATES

LABOUR’S formidable political pugilist Liz McManus often reduced Energy Minister Eamon Ryan to a stuttering mess as she savaged Coalition musings on privatising semi-states and ravaged the Greens failure to fulfil their self-proclaimed reason for being in Government and bring in a Climate Change Bill. Lady Wicklow’s decision to stand down means her smouldering presence will be missed in the next Dáil.

RESURRECTION OF THE YEAR

MICHAEL Noonan made a spectacular comeback to frontline politics as Fine Gael finance spokesman, quickly establishing himself as the deadpan assassin of the Dáil whose withering put-downs and command of detail often reduced Brian Lenihan to visible, uncomfortable fury.

The traits that so grated on voters when he was opposition leader, suddenly reassured them as Noonan’s distinctive voice took on the hue of a calming cross between Star Wars’ wise Jedi Knight Obi Wan Kenobe and Yoda — rather than its previous likeness to a malfunctioning lawn-mower.

Parliamentarian of the year.

NAMA-RAMA

THE disparate threads of the Celtic Tiger Tragedy suddenly became woven into a single tapestry of sorrow at the opening of the Convention Centre Dublin as what was intended to be the icon of the boom instead showcased those buried beneath the rubble of the bust.

Tarnished ex-taoiseach Bertie Ahern and his Nama-bailed out builder buddies like Johnny Ronan all turned out for the party.

Oh, and just look at the views of downtown Dublin from the magnificent glass edifice of the CCD! Not so much a panorama, more a NAMA-rama — as so many of the glinting buildings visible are now toxic follies propped up by the hard-pressed taxpayer — including the CCD itself.

BERTIE RISKS IT FOR A BISCUIT

“I NEVER thought I’d end up here...” Bertie Ahern deadpanned as he squashed next to a packet of Hobnobs in a larder as he advertised a Sunday tabloid, but this turn of events came as no surprise to those of us who sat through his 14 tortuous days in the witness box of the Mahon corruption probe — we always knew the level of performance he was capable of giving.

Mr Ahern’s sheer shamelessness also opened a world of cross promotion opportunities for him. What about launching: I Can’t Believe It’s Not Bertie — fake butter for those who like it extra slippery.

With the Mahon report due to be finally delivered in 2011, no doubt we will be reacquainted with all the strange nooks and crannies of St Luke’s where bundles of used twenties would flop down on Bertie’s desk and yet more readies would be stashed in hotel wardrobes.

In a way, Bertie once again transcended and embodied the age he inhabits and provided a fitting metaphor for the collapse of the boom — scurrying around in a dark cupboard for a few crumbs.

BRIAN’S MONKEY BUSINESS

LONDON traders made chimp noises over Brian Lenihan during a conference call he gave to investors at Citigroup as Ireland’s reputation began to hurtle into the trash can at dizzying speed — the international money men’s perception about Dublin clearly was: If you let monkeys run the economy — you get chimp noises.

NERVE OF THE MOUTH FROM THE SOUTH

JOHNNY “Junket” O’Donoghue laid into the opposition during the budget debate for suggesting the air travel tax should have been abolished completely.

“The old Sinn Féin philosophy of ‘only our rivers run free’ has been extended to having our petrol and diesel and even our drink run free. The world — as we are all probably aware — does not work like that.”

No, it doesn’t Johnny — unless you’re “Minister for Fun”, of course, and think nothing of billing the taxpayer for €1,000 a night hotel suites on the French Rivera and effectively hijacking the €4,000 per hour Government jet to whisk you between Cannes, Kerry and London.

Show some respect.

2011: OPERATION SHAMELESS SHAMROCK

THE broken leader of a broke country, Cowen finally showed some signs of life in the run-up to Christmas, but in reality it was just the last twitches of a political corpse with the only question remaining being who will read the last rights over his disaster-laden Premiership — the voters or his own party.

Unable to communicate, surrounded by weak yes men and badly advised, he clings on hoping for one last trip to the White House on St Patrick’s Day at the taxpayers’ expense — Operation Shamrock as it is known.

The IMF fiasco meant he lost whatever credibility and respect that remained with him during the slump. He clings-on day by day knowing he now has nothing left to lose — except the General Election, of course.

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