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From Louis Walsh to Ben Dunne -- all say Cowen must go

WERE the call for him to stand down to come from the Opposition or even from within the ranks of his own party, Taoiseach Brian Cowen would probably dismiss it with contempt.

Today, however, the call on Mr Cowen comes from the growing chorus of Ireland's leading public figures and a disenchanted populace.

Celia Larkin -- a former key adviser and confidante to former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern -- lays it firmly on the line for Mr Cowen and his leadership of Fianna Fail, saying: "The party is bigger than one man, and certainly more important than one man, even if it's a man as devoted to Fianna Fail as Brian is. Here's the truth of it: in order for the party to survive, Brian must go, and go quickly."

Asked for his views on Mr Cowen's leadership, the billionaire founder and chairman of Glen Dimplex International, Martin Naughton, said: "I don't know the man personally. I hear he's a decent guy. But he's not showing any leadership qualities. He's turned out to be a bit of a disaster, I think."

Addressing the question of whether the Taoiseach should step down now, Mr Naughton said: "I don't think that's wise to do that coming up to the Budget and the year end. But I think it's inevitable. He's living on borrowed time."

In comments that may give Mr Cowen some solace, Mr Naughton -- one of Ireland's most successful businessmen -- added of the Opposition that: "It's also deeply depressing when you look at the Opposition who will take over if and when this Government goes. It doesn't fill you with great excitement."

Ireland's leading music impresario Louis Walsh was less conciliatory in his comments. "He doesn't have the 'X' factor. He has the 'EX' factor. I'm in London, but when I come every weekend and all I see is all this bad news, and all these dreary-looking politicians, I just say 'oh my God'. Where are all the young people? Where are all the entrepreneurs? It's time we had some new faces with a new attitude. At the very least, he (Mr Cowen) needs a new stylist," Mr Walsh said.

Another of the country's best-known and most successful entrepreneurs, Ben Dunne, remarked bluntly that Mr Cowen's "number is up" when asked for comment.

"He's finished. He's only hanging in there. He knows his number is up. He knows he's not going to be the next Taoiseach of this country. But I can understand why he won't step down. And I'm not sure that Enda Kenny would be acceptable to the people. The people want a complete change now. Ordinary people are totally dissatisfied with the politicians. Our politicians are going around like gods. But they're public servants. They're supposed to be serving us," Mr Dunne said.

"If they (the Government) had any respect for the citizens of this country, there would be an election before the Budget where all the parties put their cards on the table. Then we could decide as a nation who we want to run this country for the next five years," Mr Dunne added.

More damning again were the views of leading economist Jim Power.

"What you need at the moment is a government with the moral authority to do what needs to be done. But more importantly, you need a leader that people believe in, regard as credible, and Brian Cowen is not that. Full stop.

"This Government has zero moral authority. And I'll put it even more bluntly. I wouldn't follow Brian Cowen into the trenches at this juncture," Mr Power said.

Also critical of the Taoiseach was the highly-respected founder of the University of Limerick, Professor Ed Walsh.

Commenting on Mr Cowen's political career generally, Professor Walsh said: "The Taoiseach's track record shows that in various ministries, he didn't change anything, he continued on with what his predecessors had done. He left no notable mark on anything that he has occupied. So he just continued on, he continued to crank the handle. He was Finance Minister after Charlie McCreevy, and I suppose he continued to adopt the policy of 'if I have it, I'll spend it'."

Asked if the country could afford now to allow Mr Cowen to remain on as Taoiseach, Professor Walsh was decidedly lukewarm in his response.

"For better or worse, he's in the position at present. The message (on the plan for the economy) is not his. It's an IMF message. I think a change of government won't change that. I think we're being guided by Brussels really at present, and perhaps that's no harm at all. I'm impressed by Michael Noonan. I think he's one of the smartest people, with Brian Lenihan, in the parliament."

Former Minister of State John McGuinness was more forthright in his criticism of Mr Cowen and his leadership, and called for him to step aside.

He said: "The plan for the economy has to be headed up by strong leadership, and that strong leadership is not being given by Brian Cowen. So therefore, you have to look at someone with the ability to communicate to people the message that there will be severe and fundamental changes to their lives. To do that, you need someone strong. He has failed to do that over the past few years. He should step aside. He's been given every opportunity to do all the things he promised to do to fulfil the expectations of the people."

While aviation entrepreneur Ulick McEvaddy didn't look for the Taoiseach to stand down, he did call on Mr Cowen as one of those who had 'broken the economy', to go and fix it now.

He said: "A lot of people say Cowen is invisible. Cowen is a very clever man. He knows he screwed up. He knows we allowed the property bubble to take us down, and he knows that during that period (1997 to 2007), they allowed public expenditure to treble. In 1997, total public expenditure was €17bn. Ten years later, in 2007, it was nearly €51bn.

"No one needs a general election right now. We'll never get a government of national unity. We tried it. It didn't work. I think the fellahs who broke it (the economy), should go and fix it now. Calling in the IMF is one solution, but it's like calling in the liquidator to a company."

SIPTU General President Jack O'Connor said that while he was reluctant to be drawn into calls for any government or leader to leave office, he questioned proposals for a four-year plan of fiscal austerity from an administration that had only one year left to run.

"The only thing I would say is that there is an obvious deficiency with an approach which envisages a four-year plan given that constitutionally, the Government has just over a year to run," Mr O'Connor said.

Chief executive of ISME Mark Fielding pointedly refused to offer his support to Mr Cowen, saying: "I'm not going to come down either side and say that Fianna Fail are the right people to be in there, or that Brian Cowen is the right person or not. Whatever government there is, it has to be stronger on the actual cutbacks that are required to achieve the €15bn adjustment over the next few years. They really have to stand up to all the vested interests, be they in business or the unions."

Sunday Independent