The Cowen interview - A step closer to an early election

IF we expect our political leaders to be perfect then Taoiseach Brian Cowen fell well short of that mark on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland yesterday.

Even if we settle for jobsworth leaders who are barely reassuring and just about able to give the impression that they understand the urgency, the single-mindedness, vision and ruthlessness needed at the very moment our economic independence is being whittled away then Mr Cowen must do an awful lot more than he did yesterday to meet that challenge.

If, like the great majority of people in this country, you were already very angry with him and his Government because of their central role in our economic collapse, your poor view of him was solidified by a performance that, for whatever reason, did nothing to inspire even the barest confidence.

An objective, honest appraisal would conclude that he squandered considerable personal capital and did more to undermine his own credibility than all the accusations of economic treason that opposition politicians might care to throw at him.

In far too many ways, and not for the first time, Mr Cowen’s dismissive, bristling, unsympathetic and uncharismatic performance did more to undermine the confidence, the positive attitude, he encourages us all to embrace, than he or his supporters might care to acknowledge.

Whether it was, as RTÉ reported, because he was drinking with colleagues until sometime after three o’clock in the morning or because, as some of his loyal cabinet members were quick to insist, “he is not a morning person” is irrelevant. He gave the impression, and that is all it can be, that he was enjoying the tail-end of a very good night out rather than a leader preparing to inspire his parliamentary party in the midst of the greatest crisis Ireland has faced in a generation.

The damage to the country’s reputation, the Government’s reputation and Mr Cowen’s reputation can’t be ignored. No matter how one-eyed you are, no matter how many generations of your family has voted for Fianna Fáil, there is no point in pretending otherwise.

As we are discovering to our great cost, Ireland is more susceptible to the whims of international financiers than we might care to admit. Hours after Mr Cowen’s interview Bank of Ireland was trading 2.6% lower after Standard & Poor’s revised the bank’s outlook from “stable” to “negative”. The agency said the bank faces “considerable challenges” in restoring its credit profile. So many of these decisions depend on the impressions a country and its Government can engender and yesterday’s breakfast interview did nothing other than eat away at that confidence.

Mr Cowen, like so many people suffering the brunt of the economic catastrophe, is under tremendous pressure and the “all work and no play makes Johnny a dull boy” principle applies to him as it does to any of us.

However, Mr Cowen’s position and record demand otherwise. He was very closely involved with the decisions that ruined this country before he became, without an election, Taoiseach. So, it is not as if his record is unblemished or that he enjoys the kind of popular mandate essential at this time.

For all sorts of reasons Fianna Fáil may not want to either go to the country or change their leader. Yesterday morning’s ill-advised performance made that position even more difficult to maintain than it already was.


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