FORMER Taoiseach Brian Cowen has vigorously defended his government's handling of the banking crisis and insisted that Europe is duty-bound to let Ireland restructure the bank debts his administration agreed to.
The comments from Mr Cowen mark his first public statements since he resigned from office last year, and come as the Fine Gael Government battles to restructure as much as €40bn of bank debt.
The most pressing issue is the €30bn IOU that Mr Cowen's Government gave to Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide, a deal Finance Minister Michael Noonan has described as "very bad" for Ireland.
Mr Cowen said that all in authority have to accept their share of responsibility for the country's dilemma and he, as a former Taoiseach and Finance Minister, took a greater share than most.
"Governments make mistakes in good times and in bad times and I and others have apologised for those made by my government and for previous governments led by my party," he said.
"There have been attempts to cast everything we did as errors but I prefer to let history in time analyse the policies and decisions and with the benefit of a longer view to examine and judge on the issues."
Mr Cowen made his comments last week at a closed event at Georgetown University, Washington. The comments were only reported yesterday.
He said that restructuring the banking debt could "help" Ireland's "adjustment path and return to markets" and that he expected this country to be one of the first in the eurozone to emerge from crisis.
"The next reform must involve a deal on the Anglo Irish Bank promissory notes (IOUs)," he said, in a speech that was published yesterday and first reported by the 'Financial Times' online.
Despite admitting the promissory notes needed to be restructured, Mr Cowen defended his government's decision to issue them, stressing that they had limited options when the banking crisis hit. "As a member of the euro area, Ireland must play by the rules."
He also hinted that Europe was duty-bound to give Ireland a better deal.
One of the things Mr Cowen's government is most heavily criticised for is the blanket guarantee infamously granted in the middle of the night in September 2008.
"We had to deal with this crisis in real time. Our view at the time was that we would get one shot at calming the markets."