Fionnan Sheahan: Morning Ireland was a real new low for Brian Cowen
Published 15/09/2010 | 05:00
THE Taoiseach yesterday had to deny that he was drunk on the national airwaves. No positives can emerge from such a set of circumstances.
After the initial shellshock from the controversy, Fianna Fail regrouped and did what the party does as it fought back against the attacks on Brian Cowen.
Spinning hard, the party was trying to suggest that the entire furore was generated by a single comment from Fine Gael's Simon Coveney.
It was an insult to the intelligence of the listeners to RTE's 'Morning Ireland' who had heard Cowen's dreadful interview.
In the modern communications era, text messages and emails were flying and radio stations were debating it well before Coveney's comments on Twitter had become widely heard of. Coveney added a political edge to the debate but he was only saying what a lot of others were already thinking.
When Fianna Fail start packing the rent-a-crowd into their press conferences, you know their leader is in trouble. Bertie Ahern had the party faithful on hand to cheer him on at the height of the pressure on him over the Mahon Tribunal revelations at the last general election.
The party rolled in the ministers, TDs and senators to cheer on Brian Cowen yesterday as he faced questions from the media over this latest episode. The intimidation tactics failed as the Taoiseach still faced questions about whether he had a drink problem.
Cowen described the attack from Coveney as a "real new low in Irish politics" and Fianna Fail will feel they have done enough to contain the problem.
But the damage is done.
Once again, the perception has emerged that the Taoiseach is not engaged with the crucial dilemmas facing the country.
He left the impression that he was just going through the motions in his public appearances and media interviews and did not have any interest in connecting with the citizens of the country.
The excuses for his performance would flow more easily if it was in isolation, but the Taoiseach has a long track record of sounding like he really couldn't care less and just wants to get whatever tedium he's being asked to engage in over and done with.
The timing is crucial and couldn't be worse for Cowen, Fianna Fail and the Government. The general view that the Coalition is not capable of dealing with the issues confronting it will only be reiterated.
The past week has seen a series of devastating and quite public blows to the Government's credibility. The layout of the Anglo Irish Bank plan left more questions than answers, especially after Cowen's own inadequate explanations of the position.
Debating whether the Anglo price tag is going to be €22bn, €25bn, €34bn, €39bn or more does nothing to provide reassurance to taxpayers that their interests are being protected.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan's suggestion that the Government may suddenly have to cut more than €3bn in December's Budget merely added to the notion that the Government is making it up as it goes along.
RTE's 'Freefall' documentary was a devastating piece of commentary on the Government's role in the growth of the property bubble and its failure to act upon the excesses of the banking system.
TO MAKE matters worse, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern is still claiming that the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank in the US and the failings of the Financial Regulators were to blame. He is ignoring the conclusions of the respected banking reports, that the financial crash in this country was largely caused by domestic factors.
The report by international banking experts Klaus Regling and Max Watson says that while the Irish banking crisis bears the clear imprint of global influences, it was in crucial ways a home-made crisis.
"Moreover, bank supervisors in Ireland were not called upon to deal with technically complex problems. Ireland's banking exuberance indulged in few of the exotic constructs that caused problems elsewhere.
"This was a plain vanilla property bubble, compounded by exceptional concentrations of lending for purposes related to property -- notably commercial property," it says.
Unfortunately for Cowen, he was the Finance Minister during this period of excess.
On a personal level, the Taoiseach has arrived at a position where he faces more legitimate questions about whether or not he has an alcohol problem.
And it is not for the first time.
As far back as the summer of 2009, Cowen was responding to the long-running rumours about his drinking.
"That's not an issue at all, to be honest. I relax now and again with friends. I try and do the normal things that normal people do. It's overstated, this drinking thing," he said in an interview with the 'Sunday Independent'.
Cowen can argue it's unfair that he continually has to counter the innuendo. But he has to help himself too.
At a time when 450,000 people are out of work, the entire country is concerned about the forthcoming €3bn cuts in the Budget and the ongoing banking crisis is creating a pall of uncertainty, the country that Cowen leads is entitled to have some confidence in the ability of its leader.
The Taoiseach is failing to engender any such spirit of belief.