Sunday 19 November 2017

The Morecambe and not-so-wise Brian Cowen show

TELEVISION Our Taoiseach, like Eric, played the right notes but in the wrong order, writes Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Brian Cowen's Non-Resignation Speech (RTE1)

The Johnny McEvoy Story (RTE1)

The Saturday Night Show (RTE1)

For a few minutes on Monday evening, the popularity of Brian Cowen rose to its highest level since the day in 2008 when he had just become Taoiseach and he swept through his native Offaly singing Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore.

It had just been announced that he was going to make a statement at 7pm -- a statement that most of us believed would go something like this: "The IMF has come in. Therefore, I am going. Goodbye."

In those few minutes, when only one thing seemed possible, some of us found ourselves looking kindly on Cowen for a change, even feeling a bit surprised that we were having such feelings -- which shows how even one decent act, one instance of a leader obviously doing the right thing, can put a new perspective on his career.

No doubt about it, a Taoiseach announcing his resignation, even if his position is untenable, is no small thing. You can't help but have some respect for anyone who is standing up there, admitting defeat.

Our old friends the bond markets had no such respect as they, too, prepared themselves for the Taoiseach's announcement. But they were in no doubt, either, as to what he was about to say.

As the market analyst Paul Sommerville told Vincent Browne, every single person in the financial services sector in the world who was watching this was sure that Cowen was going to resign.

And that crowd is watching us a lot these days. You hear people saying that they're afraid to turn on the telly any more, for fear of what the day will bring, but the deeper fear is that you switch from RTE to Sky to Bloomberg to CNN, and all you can see is Cowen-sy, doing his stuff.

That is the true spine-chiller. That is the one that makes you grab the remote and turn to Telly Bingo.

On Monday, as our by-now world-famous leader prepared to speak, we felt he was going to lift that burden from us, at least.

But as soon as he started speaking, all good thoughts vanished, and hope died. Incredibly, mind-bogglingly, he wasn't going after all. He was staying.

Now he was blathering about an election, maybe in February. And you wondered how often this had happened over the past two or three years, how many times they could have done the right thing, but couldn't face it? How often were they confronted with a decision that had to be taken straight away, but in that doomed way of theirs decided that it could wait for another few weeks, another few months? Maybe until next year?

As we sat there watching this weird broadcast from the land of make-believe, we awaited the verdict of RTE's top man, David Davin-Power.

We expected that, like most of us, not to mention our friends in the financial services sector, David would be virtually speechless with amazement and dread. But he could speak, all right, with some clarity.

It was, he said, "a strong performance" by the Taoiseach. A strong performance. For a moment, it just seemed like a mistake, that he was talking about something else, something that had happened in a more easy-going time, maybe one of Cowen-sy's famously great speeches to which the public was not invited.

But no, Davin-Power thought that Cowen's non-resignation speech was "a strong performance".

And in a way, it was. He performed the speech quite well. Unfortunately, it was the wrong speech.

It reminded me of Eric Morecambe's line to Andre Previn, when Morecambe is playing Grieg's piano concerto, and Previn accuses him of playing all the wrong notes -- "I am playing all the right notes," Morecambe says menacingly, grabbing Previn by the lapels, "but not necessarily in the right order ... "

Who knows? Maybe one day Davin-Power will see it differently. After all, it took political commentators about a week to catch up

with the view expressed here last Sunday, that not only was the Donegal by-election not "the most important by-election in the history of the State", in the present circumstances it was perhaps the least important by-election, if not the least important thing of any kind that has ever happened anywhere.

By now, the bond markets had switched off, cackling in disbelief. We keep hearing that the markets "don't like uncertainty". But after our latest display, maybe it's not the uncertainty. Maybe it's just us that they don't like.

So, we found solace in the heroes of yore. The Johnny McEvoy Story was a triumph for all of us -- "all of us", in this case, meaning me -- who have championed the great man, and for whom this was some consolation. For the poor ould fellas out there, it was a reason to go on living for another 27 minutes.

Then Horslips were having a blast with Brendan O'Connor on The Saturday Night Show, reminding us how they changed the lives of so many of us in the Seventies. Can we just go back there and start again?

Sunday Independent

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