Saturday 18 November 2017

Taoiseach 'sorry' as Martin piles on pressure

Cowen apology fails to quell fears among backbenchers

Brian Cowen at at Government Buildings yesterday. Picture: Frank McGrath

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

TAOISEACH Brian Cowen was last night embarrassingly forced to make a qualified apology for his disastrous radio interview after a senior cabinet minister warned he had to "learn lessons" from the debacle.

But there were clear indications that Mr Cowen's half-hearted apology didn't quell the worries of Fianna Fail backbenchers, with one TD describing it as "terrible stuff".

The admission by Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin that the controversy wasn't playing well and that lessons had to be learned subtly piled pressure on Mr Cowen to clear up the mess.

But the Taoiseach's officials denied that this had any impact on his decision to apologise.

Significantly, Mr Martin became the first cabinet minister to stop parroting the Fianna Fail line that the entire controversy was caused by Fine Gael's Simon Coveney saying he "sounded half-way between drunk and hungover" during his interview on 'Morning Ireland' on Tuesday morning.

The Taoiseach was also expected to undertake a review of his communications strategy in the wake of the fallout.

"I would imagine so. Everything gets looked at after the event," his spokesman told the Irish Independent.

Fianna Fail backbenchers were also understood to have bombarded senior party figures close to the Taoiseach with concerns about how badly the affair was playing with voters.

Struggling to contain the fallout from the debacle, Mr Cowen came out 33 hours after the incident and sought to limit the damage.

"Well I'm sorry that it emerged in the quality that it did and, as I say, there was a hoarseness in my voice throughout the day yesterday.

"But it doesn't take away from the fact that it wasn't my best performance and I would like to apologise for that.

"If people were to take from it that there was any suggestion of disrespect or casualness on my part, that wasn't the case," Mr Cowen said on RTE's 'Six One News'.

But Mr Cowen's spokesman denied that the apology had stemmed from internal pressure and insisted it was the Taoiseach's own decision.

Disaster

"I utterly reject the suggestion that the Taoiseach came under any pressure, direct or otherwise, from any member of the Cabinet.

"He reflected on the situation and made up his own mind as to the course of action which he took," the spokesman said.

After delaying his apology until the heat intensified further, Mr Cowen failed to allay the worries of his backbenchers -- but there was no sign of a leadership heave emerging.

"He doesn't seem to be able to resist being one of the lads. The whole thing is being lumped together and we're being seen as a disaster," a backbencher said.

Mr Cowen also apologised to Fianna Fail ministers yesterday morning for the controversy distracting from the party's pre-Dail think-in.

After defending Mr Cowen early in the day, Mr Martin later strayed from the line being parroted by his cabinet colleagues with his comments about learning lessons. Fianna Fail TD Chris Andrews also said Mr Cowen had "questions to answer".

But a government source said Mr Martin was simply trying to kill off the controversy.

"He was telling people what they wanted to hear," the source said.

Irish Independent

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