Shadow of slump over Cowen glory
'Cut the rhetoric, cut spending and cut taxes,' say Taoiseach's critics as job loss fears grow
TAOISEACH Brian Cowen's honeymoon looks like being the shortest in history, as the dark clouds of economic reality close in on the world's most open economy.
Mr Cowen was at the centre of ecstatic celebrations in Co Offaly yesterday.
But commentators predicted a torrent of criticism for the new leader over the next 18 months, as job losses increase and home-owners face the dreaded threat of negative equity.
It is not far off economic armageddon, with a long period of pain to come, as one critic called on Mr Cowen to "cut the rhetoric, cut taxes and cut spending".
He has also been attacked by the Opposition for choosing to engage in elaborate celebrations in Co Offaly, when he should have taken the "golden opportunity" to strike a sombre note for the country which would have had the two-fold effect of warning the public of what is to come and presenting himself as a leader of substance.
The crisis in the world economy may be beyond Mr Cowen's control, but his critics accuse him of complacency when as Minister for Finance, he failed to take effective action at the outset of the property slump.
Fine Gael deputy leader Richard Bruton has called on the Taoiseach and his new Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan to rip up the current programme for government and replace it with one that will deal with the country's economic crisis.
The loss of jobs in the construction industry and the Habitat closure make a mockery of complacent statements made a year or so ago, that a "correction" to the property market was necessary.
However, although the country is facing mounting job losses, rising living costs, plummeting consumer confidence, far tighter credit conditions and increasing house repossessions, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen and Fianna Fail are enjoying high approval ratings this weekend in a Sunday Independent/Quantum Research nationwide poll.
As he basks in the warm affection of his home county of Offaly this weekend, Mr Cowen is also the most popular party leader nationally, with three in every four satisfied with his performance according to our poll.
Speaking yesterday to an enthusiastic crowd of 5,000 people in Tullamore, Mr Cowen told the assembled gathering not to be swayed by an ill-informed commentariat, and that he is the right man to steer the country clear from difficulty.
He said: "I urge people not to be sceptical and cynical about the temporary adjustment that will be required, and I will not be found wanting when it comes to making those adjustments." Mr Cowen spent all day yesterday at a series of events throughout Offaly, culminating in a big celebration in his home town of Clara last night.
Two of Mr Cowen's closest political allies, Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe and Defence Minister Willie O'Dea, were in Offaly to join in the celebrations.
According to our nationwide poll, Fianna Fail now has a commanding lead over Fine Gael in terms of first-preference votes. Fianna Fail is up to 46 per cent, compared to the 41.6 per cent share they got last May. Fine Gael received a disappointing 21 per cent, compared with the 27 per cent of the vote they got last year.
Labour are now on 11 per cent, marking small progress for Eamon Gilmore, while the Greens are now on 7 per cent.
Another telling aspect of our poll is the virtual collapse of support for Sinn Fein. They are now down to a mere 2 per cent, while the PDs continue to languish on 1 per cent. Independents received 3 per cent.
The Sunday Independent /Quantum Research nationwide poll was conducted on Friday evening. Using questions formulated by the Sunday Independent editorial staff, professional researchers contacted 500 respondents at random.
As party leader, Mr Cowen received an approval rating of 79 per cent. Surprisingly, he was more popular among women than men, and achieved a higher rate of satisfaction among urban dwellers than rural ones.
"I hope Cowen will signal a new era for Fianna Fail, of substance over style, and bring back honest Irish countrymen values," said one rural male respondent.
In contrast, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny's position looks precarious, with an extremely disappointing rating of only 37 per cent.
Most of those who were not satisfied with Mr Kenny said he failed to deliver the goods during last year's general election and added that his failure to tackle Bertie Ahern properly over his financial issues was telling.
"Kenny has to go. Fianna Fail is getting a free ride because of the ineptitude of the opposition," said one city female. Kenny's unpopularity is fairly even among city and rural respondents.
Eamon Gilmore received a positive rating of 60 per cent. However he is clearly more popular in urban areas than in rural. Many people said that Gilmore is not an ideal leader, but Labour is not spoiled for choice. "Gilmore was chosen as leader because he was the only man for the job, literally they had no one else," said an urban male respondent.
John Gormley received a satisfaction rating of 63 per cent. However, many people questioned how effective the Greens have been. "He's a Green, how much offence can he really cause?" asked one male respondent.
Gerry Adam's rating as party leader is also languishing at just 38 per cent, a long way down from pre-election levels.
"Gerry Adams is an irrelevance. It's time he was de-commissioned," said one rural male respondent.
New PD leader Ciaran Cannon had a satisfaction rating of only 31 per cent and -- perhaps not surprisingly, in view of the short time he has had a public profile -- a relatively large number (15 per cent) had no opinion. "They picked the wrong leader, they should have gone for Fiona O'Malley," said one respondent, while another simply said: "Ciaran who?"