I put the people first, says Cowen as Dail is dissolved
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen described himself as someone who had always had the "best interests" of the Irish people at heart in his final Dail speech yesterday.
During his time in office, Mr Cowen had been angered and upset by the accusation from Labour leader Eamon Gilmore that he could have committed "economic treason" by introducing the state banking guarantee.
He strongly defended his record and his policies during his two-and-a-half years in office yesterday.
"I believe politics is about serving the interests of the people, first and last. That was my motivation starting out in public life and I stayed true to it right to the end," he said.
Mr Cowen released a statement last night to counter any suggestions his Government intended to pack state boards with cronies over the next three weeks.
And he told the Dail yesterday he had no time for the cynics who talked down or belittled people in public life.
"Politics is public service -- and it is an honourable profession. I say that with sincerity, with conviction and from experience," he said.
Mr Cowen paid tribute to his late father Ber Cowen TD, who died of a heart attack in 1984. He said he had given him a great grounding in the values of community service and a love of politics.
He also thanked the voters in his Laois-Offaly constituency, who had re-elected him over the past 27 years.
"I will be forever grateful for their loyalty and their support during good days and bad in my political life," he said.
Mr Cowen brought a collection of essays by the poet and philosopher John O'Donohue with him on his summer holidays to Connemara in 2008 -- and he quoted from one of his poems yesterday about the necessary qualities of a leader.
Mr Cowen stressed the positive by talking about the country's strengths, such as the growth in exports, the presence of US multinationals and the high number of skilled graduates.
Although he said it was not the time to talk about his achievements, he did mention his role in negotiating the Hillsborough Agreement on the devolution of policing and justice, which allowed the Northern Assembly to start functioning again.
"Peace is priceless -- and we must continue to work collectively to protect it," he said.
Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny generously put aside party rivalries as he wished Mr Cowen and his family well in the future
"Despite strongly disagreeing with many government policies that the Taoiseach and his party have pursued, I have no doubt about his integrity as a person or as a politician," he said.
However, Labour's Eamon Gilmore used the opportunity to again go on the attack. "It is clear that Fianna Fail and Fine Gael are comfortable with each other's policies," he said.
"They both voted for the blanket bank guarantee. They are happy to embrace austerity -- to line up behind the EU-IMF deal, whatever the cost in jobs. It is clear that neither has any wish to break up the Celtic Tory consensus that has brought us to where we are."