Social protection spokesman Willie O’Dea made the remark at the launch of a best-selling book chronicling the inside Government story of Ireland’s financial downfall.
The book, Hell At The Gates — which is co-authored by Irish Examiner political editor Daniel McConnell and Mail on Sunday political editor John Lee — tells the tale of what happened behind the cabinet doors between 2007 and 2011 as the Irish economy became bankrupt.
Through detailed interviews with Brian Cowen, Micheál Martin, Mary Harney, Eamon Ryan, and Mary O’Rourke — who said the period was like a “Shakespearean drama” — the book also reveals how ministers were physically attacked on the streets, the pressure placed on Government from the troika and the Mr Lenihan’s ultimately unsuccessful battle with cancer.
The impact of what happened caused devastation to the country and led to Fine Gael and Labour sweeping to power in the 2011 general election with Fianna Fáil’s support evaporating, a situation from which the party is still recovering.
However, speaking at the launch of the book at Doheny and Nesbitt’s in Dublin City last night, Mr O’Dea said with hindsight he believes both Brian Cowen and Brian Lenihan always put “country before party” in the decisions they made.
“At the time of the handover from Bertie Ahern to Brian Cowen [spring 2008] it was blindingly obvious we were going to have to take decisions that were going to be horrendous for the party.
“Looking back at it now, in hindsight, the two Brians cannot stand accused of anything except they put country before party. And that’s not the worst thing to be accused of,” he said, adding that Hell At The Gates “gives the reader a ring-side seat on what happened as the drama played out”.
Mr O’Dea’s remarks risk re-opening the debate over whether the series of deepening cuts imposed on the public during the economic crisis were necessary, or if other savings could have been made to protect the most vulnerable in society.
The claims are also likely to be raised as part of the ongoing industrial action problems surrounding the gardaí and teachers, which while being directly linked to the current and previous Fine Gael-led governments also have as their roots the 2007-2011 crisis era.
In a chapter in the book, Mr Cowen echoes Mr O’Dea’s remarks by saying while the crash was difficult for people he still believes his actions helped save the country.
“Yes, my taoiseach term was a difficult time but I think over time people are maybe realising that we did get through that period, that what we did was part of the necessary recovery,” he said.
- Hell At The Gates by Daniel McConnell and John Lee, is in book stores, €16.99.