FIRST it was: "I never read it" -- then yesterday: "I never said it".
Taoiseach Brian Cowen denied yesterday ever revealing that he didn't read the Lisbon Treaty. His alleged personal lack of interest in the document has been widely cited by 'No' voters as a spur to their rejection of the complex deal.
But Mr Cowen denied giving the impression that he had not so much as glanced at the document. "I never said that," he declared when it was put to him that the indications were that his reported remark -- "I haven't read the treaty" -- had fuelled popular resentment.
The Taoiseach claimed: "I never said that. I said that I hadn't read it from cover to cover at that point."
Mr Cowen said he gave "an honest answer to a quick question," which had been posed by an RTE journalist. "It's not that I was indifferent to its contents," the Taoiseach added.
During the campaign Mr Cowen made a number of attempts to repair the impression that he had not read the treaty.
But the situation was compounded when Irish EU Commissioner Charlie McCreevy said he didn't read it "either", and suggested that a person would have to be "insane" to want to do so.
Mr Cowen clarified that while he had not exhaustively examined the treaty, he knew what was in it.
He said he had spent six months negotiating the treaty for Ireland's part, and had seen a number of drafts. He was quite satisfied that he fully understood what all the main provisions were.
It is the second time recently that Mr Cowen has sought to clarify what he said in relation to Lisbon.
In mid-campaign, remarks that were made about other parties' ramping up their efforts to match those of Fianna Fail were taken as a slight by both Fine Gael and Labour.
Mr Cowen said that he hadn't intended any offence, and he claimed that Enda Kenny and Eamon Gilmore had been determined to take umbrage where no slight was given or intended.
But he conceded yesterday that the Government and 'Yes' side generally "didn't run as effective a campaign as we could have, and should have".