Tuesday 23 May 2017

Gay finds Cowen's social habits difficult to swallow

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

Veteran broadcaster Gay Byrne has taken a sideswipe at the social habits of Brian Cowen, saying a Taoiseach should not be seen sitting on a high stool of his local pub sipping pints.

"I question whether you can be Taoiseach and still sit up and have a pint in the local pub. You have to dignify the office. That is what I would have told him, had I been asked," he said.

In a pointed rebuke he said that the country was crying out for leadership and Mr Cowen should have taken the bull by the horns, spoken directly to the Irish people about the crisis and declared what needed to be done to save the country.

Mr Byrne, now chairman of the Road Safety Authority, lashed out on behalf of the forgotten people of the economic crisis -- the elderly citizens left deeply worried about how they would face the future.

He said there was an insidious "low-level anxiety" afflicting older people whose savings and pensions had been wiped out by the banking crisis and he admitted he worried that his wife Kathleen would not have enough money to get by after he is gone.

Now 76, Mr Byrne voiced the deep concerns of many of his generation whose plight had been largely ignored since the collapse of the banking system and the recession plundered their peace of mind.

He said he feared that the brunt of decades of economic mismanagement would be borne by his grandchildren, but he says that older people, including himself, who invested in what they felt were blue chip, conservative shares, had been left bewildered and frightened.

"All the people of my age, all the grey-haired wrinklies of my age, we all had our little pensions aside," Mr Byrne said.

"And I invested in absolutely watertight stuff: AIB, Anglo Irish and Guinness and various shares -- all the stuff you were told that you couldn't go wrong. And that is all gone. It is wiped out.

"And it is the same all over the country for people of my age and older," he said in an Irish Times interview.

"My sole worry is that Kathleen will have enough to see her through."

But his anger was palpable as he made an impassioned plea on behalf of older people caught in the maelstrom of the collapse.

"Nobody has been made accountable. And we thought we were paying these high-flying guys enormous sums of money because they were experts. And now we know that they knew nothing more than we did. The situation is serious. I am frightened for people of my generation.

"They have introduced this constant, low-level anxiety into our lives, which we could well do without. It all hangs on a thread anyhow. There is no certainty in life.

"But the general situation is that people who felt they could settle back now find that they can't," he added.

The former broadcaster believes that we need another Lemass and he pinpointed the desire among voters for more decisive leadership.

"What everyone is crying out for is leadership. What I would have recommended Brian Cowen to do, had he asked me, which is extremely unlikely, is this: in January 2009, or at the latest midsummer 2009, he should have been on the television every night at nine o'clock instead of the news. Not being interviewed but there to camera, explaining how bad things are. And he should have done this every night for two weeks.

"And then he should have explained what we will do about it and that it is going to be ghastly and that he will be the most hated man in the world. But to state: we are going to do this.

"And even now people are crying out for someone. I think Lemass would have been the strongest man that we ever had.

"I don't know whether Brian Cowen is a fantastic leader because I just don't know enough about him. The guy isn't there."

Sunday Independent

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