Saturday 24 February 2018

Lise Hand: Fighting talk from Cowen, but it's too late

Lise Hand

Lise Hand

SO he's going to go without a fight, eh? So he's going to sit patiently and obediently in his well-appointed office, sigh over all the what-might-have-beens and wait for the men in the grey suits to arrive and hand him his hat?

Does word have it that he's going to go quietly into that good political night, pausing only long enough to apologise profusely for the role which he and his Government played in killing the golden goose of a Celtic Tiger, so to speak?

Brian Cowen is in his nelly.

Usually, a sort of calm descends upon Leinster House the day after a potentially explosive Budget is detonated, while all sides of the Dail chamber wait for the dust to settle.

But the Taoiseach isn't of a mind to lie low these days.

He has a heave to deflect and a General Election to fight. And thus from early doors yesterday morning, Brian came out swinging.

Usually, Leaders' Questions post-Budget gives the opposition a chance to deliver a serious kicking to the Government, selecting from the annual a la carte menu of adjectives -- "heartless", "savage", "unfair" and the latest hot favourite, "draconian". But not yesterday.

Instead, it was the Taoiseach who came roaring out of the traps and kicked over Enda and Eamon's assertions about how they would've brought in a Budget without cutting certain social welfare payments.

"The more people talk about the real issues, the more they will see who is prepared to take decisions to ensure the country has sufficient funds to look after the most vulnerable. Perhaps people will listen to them rather than the incoherent nonsense I have been hearing this morning," he attacked.

The opposition appeared to be caught a bit on the hop.

Brian Cowen was supposed to behave like a beaten docket, a dead Taoiseach walking, and not like a man spoiling for an unmerciful scrap.

As Eamon's troops began roaring, Brian shot back.

"It's the truth and those are the facts. To contend otherwise would mean not being straight with the people," he shouted.

"You've never been straight with the people," bellowed an irate Roisin Shortall.

Oh, it was all very lively.

There was the muffled sound of daggers sliding slowly from scabbards as rumours persisted that a heave against Brian was imminent -- this feeling was only reinforced when the most likely candidates to succeed him (Brian Lenihan, Micheal Martin and Mary Hanafin) all trotted out at various stages to declare that their hats would only sail ring-wise when -- and only when -- a vacancy existed.

But Leaders' Questions was merely a warm-up for the main performance of the day.

Make no mistake -- the General Election may not have yet been called, but as far as Brian Cowen is concerned the campaign is already under way.

He wasn't long into his Dail statement when he went bald-headed for the opposition.

"Deputy Gilmore would do well to recognise his potential responsibilities and stop pretending to people in either a naive or deceitful way that his party has some other way," he said. "On the one hand, Fine Gael says there is no need for any income tax increases and, on the other, the Labour Party says there is no need for any welfare cuts," he charged.

"That is simply an incredible position to take."

The bullets just kept flying.

"Let's not get into a stupid debate or descend into the foolishness of suggesting there is an alternative government available to this country. . . that will neither increase tax nor cut welfare. . . It is patent nonsense and it needs to be seen for what it is," he insisted.

Enda and Eamon did their best yesterday morning -- the Fine Gael leader probably correctly surmising that the Budget was full of "booby-traps and landmines" which may well be burning on a long fuse, while Eamon vowed to the Taoiseach that the General Election would be fought "on your miserable record", but neither of them landed a blow.

By lunchtime, Brian had stepped into the radio arena with feared gladiator of the airwaves, Radio One's Sean O'Rourke. But this time Sean got a few digs himself, at one stage being accused of asking a "superficial question".

However, during the robust ding-dong, Brian Cowen did expose one of his major flaws.

He was being harangued by the presenter to apologise for the state of the country, and repeatedly retorted: "I have said, I don't know how many times I've said this to you. I am extremely sorry that we're in this situation."

And then he said it again and again, each time his voice rising in exasperation.

"I apologise unconditionally about the situation this country finds itself in."

There is a world of difference for saying sorry for the state we're in, and apologising for being an intrinsic part of the Government which contributed in a great part to the near-ruin of the country.

This is the apology which the nation has waited for in vain.

And this is why, revitalised or not, determined or not, the bell for the final round will soon ring for Brian Cowen.

Irish Independent

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