Taoiseach Cowen’s first day - A welcome declaration of ambition

IRELAND enjoyed a day yesterday that hundreds of millions across the world will never see.

We changed our leader amid cheering, flag waving, good humour and dignity — and an air of optimism that has been missing for far too long. We welcomed Taoiseach Brian Cowen in an atmosphere of renewed energies and tangible proof of a real change in emphasis. Ideals we all honour — community, family and possibility — were returned to centre stage in a clear, unambiguous and powerful way.

In an equally forthright statement, Mr Cowen reshaped his cabinet in a way far more radical than had been anticipated. Anyone who expected just a bit of tinkering got a rude awakening.

This new brush did indeed sweep clean.

The appointment of Mary Coughlan as Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise and Employment, and the promotion of Brian Lenihan to Finance, signal an intent and an ambition that few predicted. The promotion of Batt O’Keeffe to Minister for Education and Science and the promotion of Brendan Smith to Agriculture, Fisheries and Food reinforce the feeling that the guard has changed, that the bar has been raised.

Mr Cowen’s boldness is just what is required. It is the statement of ambition needed to rejuvenate a cabinet grown stale after more than a decade in power.

If the junior ministers’ portfolios are reviewed with equal vigour less than a year after the last election it will represent an unprecedented relaunch of a government.

During a robust, often emotional and all together impressive first speech to the Dáil as taoiseach, Mr Cowen returned to a theme he has often articulated — one he promises that will inform his time as Taoiseach.

He emphasised his commitment to policies that will advance communities rather than individuals, policies that will recognise that the greater good takes precedence over the ambitions of individuals or groups who would seek preferential treatment or position.

In acknowledging the role of his family and his heritage in his formation — “they fortify me,” he said — he put himself in a place easily recognised, shared and honoured by the majority of Irish people. He emphasised this commitment in an unprecedented way by bringing his family to Áras an Uachtaráin as he accepted his seals of office from President McAleese

By reaching over four of his predecessors to acknowledge the achievements of Seán Lemass he was at once diluting links with the immediate past and restoring the communal idealism that created the foundations of nearly everything that is good in this society.

Though yesterday may have been the best day Mr Cowen will enjoy as taoiseach for quite a considerable time, hopefully we will be able, in time, to look back on it with satisfaction and pride. We will if the reforms and sense of community he spoke of with humility and commitment come to pass.

A confident, refreshing, robust and welcome opener.

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