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Sunday 17 November 2019

'I regret 250,000 lost jobs, but I did help facilitate economic recovery'- Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen

Former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern & Brian Cowen during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern & Brian Cowen during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Chancellor of the National university of Ireland Maurice Manning & Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Terry Leyden & FormerTaoiseach Bertie Ahern during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Ian Begley

Ian Begley

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen has claimed credit for setting the context of the economic recovery in Ireland.

In a rare public appearance at Dublin Castle yesterday, Mr Cowen reflected upon the “arduous task” he faced as Taoiseach. 

He was speaking during a ceremony in which he received a law doctorate in recognition of his role in Irish politics by the National University of Ireland.

“The greatest hardship of the recession was the loss of employment for so many of our people - something which I deeply regret,” he said. 

Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

"Two hundred and fifty thousand of our two million workforce lost jobs, the vast majority in construction and related industries and in retail."

Mr Cowen added: "We knew that the required action would understandably be more unpopular than almost any policies in recent Irish history and that this threatened the survival of the Government and our hopes of election.

"However, we also know that to avoid taking the decisions would mean that future recovery could be put off by decades."

“Recognition of the scale of the problems Ireland faced and introducing measures to address them facilitated the remarkable recent turnaround in the Irish economy.

Terry Leyden & FormerTaoiseach Bertie Ahern during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Terry Leyden & FormerTaoiseach Bertie Ahern during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

“These measures by us included a radically changed system of financial regulation, major cuts in public expenditure and the recapitalisation of the Irish banking system.

“Widespread reductions in pay levels were also introduced. These measures provided a basis for the return to economic growth,” he said.

The former Taoiseach added that he accepts “the problems” should have been identified earlier and policy should have changed prior to the crisis.

He said the government’s decision to capitalise the losses in the Irish banks up front by setting up a national asset management agency. 

“This had a very significant negative impact on the economy but pushing the problem out would have damaged our long term ability to recover,” he said.

Referring to a media headline stating that the former Taoiseach threw others under the bus, Mr Cowen said that the “buck stopped with me”

Chancellor of the National university of Ireland Maurice Manning & Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins
Chancellor of the National university of Ireland Maurice Manning & Former Taoiseach Brian Cowen during a Conferring of Honorary Degree by the National University of Ireland to Brian Cowen in Dublin Castle, Dublin. Photo: Gareth Chaney Collins

“Despite making this clear in a statement I made to the banking inquiry and that nothing I would say in answering questions should in anyway be interpreted as shifting responsibility elsewhere, and saying so explicitly, we still had some sub editor in a national newspaper at the time giving a headline that I was “throwing others under the bus”.

“That has never been my style and I defy anyone involved in the media who has covered politics during my career to come forward and give me even one instance where I did that,” he said.

Mr Cowen added that he thinks the Government should bring our housing policy in line with the UK for three to four years.

“If we do that I am of the view that the housing sector will come back much more quickly and in the necessary volume to deal with present day demand.

“Clearly, a social housing programme needs to be put in place as well for those who cannot get a mortgage to buy their own home,” he said. 

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