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Sam Smyth: Defeat is certain but now Cowen risks ignominy

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IF HE had a rear-view mirror when he was speaking in the Dail yesterday, Brian Cowen would have been chilled at the stony faces on the benches behind him.

Ministers were clearly working out how their leader's performance would affect them -- and at least one more of them was deciding whether or not to run in the election.

Backbenchers sat terrified at the prospect of putting up at least €30,000 to run in an election when the party's most ambitious forecast is for thirtysomething seats.

The party Mr Cowen leads is reportedly €3m in debt going into a General Election in which it is confidently expected to be humiliated.

Morale is so low that the majority that would have supported a change of leadership is now in despair because no one else wants to lead Fianna Fail into the next election.

Last night, one backbencher said that the only victory they could claim on the day was that the Greens had now conceded that the election might now be delayed to April.

Brian Cowen will almost certainly lead Fianna Fail into that election and his party will most certainly come out of that contest thoroughly traumatised and humiliated.

He may not be a liar but Brian Cowen will emerge from the wreckage of the election as an historic loser.

The Taoiseach put his integrity on the line yesterday when he challenged the opposition to call him a liar.

Yet there are not really any insurmountable contradictions between Mr Cowen and Mr FitzPatrick -- although his enemies will try to nail the Taoiseach on semantic differences.

Mr Cowen was swaddled in the cloak of history and honour that is automatically bestowed on whoever holds the office of Taoiseach when he spoke yesterday.

By contrast, Mr FitzPatrick, the dynamo behind the breathtaking rise and spectacular crash of Anglo Irish Bank, is arguably the country's most loathed and least trusted individual.

If the public chose to believe a version of events other than the one proffered by the Taoiseach, it was a version of the mob choosing Barabbas in the Gospels.

It is a truly appalling vista for Mr Cowen if his word is not automatically accepted over the suggestions of those who say he put his personal friendship ahead of national loyalty.

Make no mistake, Mr Cowen's reputation as an honest man and his integrity as a politician were on the line in Dail Eireann yesterday and he clearly decided to go for broke.

The unspoken accusation was that he had Anglo Irish Bank included in the banking guarantee because of his personal friendships with individuals on the board of the bank.

And that because of his and Fianna Fail's close relations with the bosses at Anglo bank, he had secured a guarantee for the bank that will leave the State in penury for a generation.

Included in the farrago of insinuations was the suggestion that he was trying to have the National Treasury Management Agency deposit funds in Anglo Irish Bank at the request of Mr FitzPatrick.

Mr Cowen hadn't told the Dail about playing a round of golf with Mr FitzPatrick and an old friend on the board of the bank, Fintan Drury in July 2008. But in the Dail yesterday he was embarrassed into admitting that another director of the bank, Gary McGann, was in his company at Druid's Glenn golf course that day.

The optics added lurid colour to the squalid accusations: Mr Cowen hugger-mugger with Mr FitzPatrick and two other directors of Anglo sipping fine wine.

Neither Enda Kenny nor Eamon Gilmore directly challenged Mr Cowen's version of events, yet everyone was aware of the implications of him being found to be telling an untruth to the Dail.

IT was clear that they either do not believe him or chose to give the impression that they don't believe him for public consumption.

Fianna Fail and Brian Cowen have deservedly descended to unfathomed depths in the opinions polls after their disastrous policies plunged the State into penury.

But there was no smoking gun -- just a plethora of circumstantial evidence, enough to convict Mr Cowen in the school of public opinion where perception is regarded as an alternative version of the truth.

In a secret poll of politicians, including those who have called for Mr Cowen to deliver himself to the gardai investigating alleged wrongdoing at Anglo bank, Mr Cowen might fare better.

Despite their public utterances, he is regarded highly by most senior figures in the opposition, for his intelligence, integrity and competence.

Many in his own party have lost faith in Mr Cowen as a leader but the majority of them would share the view of him as clever, capable and honest.

Yet there he was in the Dail yesterday unusually nervous yet combative defending his honour and the more he protested his innocence, the more the accusations stained his reputation.

Irish Independent