Saturday 23 March 2019

If you want our support, Brian, act like a leader

When Napoleon was asked whether he preferred courageous or brilliant generals, he answered neither -- he wanted lucky generals.

The same rule should apply to taoisigh. Give us lucky leaders, especially when we're facing challenges.

Leadership is not only about making decisions, it's about luck: the cards falling your way. A few people seem to be born under a lucky star, most make their own luck.

Brian Cowen falls into neither category.

In life, everyone experiences bouts of winning and losing. But he has been losing consistently and spectacularly since taking on the top job, and it's damaging the State.

Lisbon. The banking crisis. Mounting job losses. A Budget reversed more than a family hatchback. The FAS scandal. And now the pig's ear made of the pork industry.

Brian Cowen need only glance across the water for a pointer on how to revive a flagging political career. It's called seizing the moment.

Gordon Brown has transformed himself into a phoenix among politicians, emerging gloriously from the ashes of his career after bold steps to tackle the banking meltdown.

Cowen looks drab by comparison.

The litany of disaster isn't entirely the Taoiseach's fault. But that's beside the point. Leadership is not the art of waiting until trouble comes knocking before applying a remedy.

It's about having the right instincts and turning adversity on its head. It's also about communication and presentation -- both weaknesses with him.

The pork scare offered Cowen a chance to show dynamic leadership -- it has been another wasted opportunity.

In fairness, the Government did well to take the nuclear option and recall pig meat. But where was Cowen at the height of the emergency? Unveiling a statue of Joe Dolan in the Midlands.

Here is where he could have made his own luck. By catching the first flight to London, where he could reassure our main export market that everything possible was being done to preserve Ireland's reputation for clean meat.

No doubt he delivered a witty speech alongside Dolan's statue. I expect locals were delighted he made the trip. But the national interest was sacrificed to parochial politics.

Cowen ought to have been in Britain offering himself for interview, to counteract such destructive -- and inaccurate -- headlines as Poison Pigs Fed On Plastic Bags.

We export most of our pork and Britain is the largest market. So that's where he needed to deliver a strong message designed to restore public confidence in our meat.

What's required here is a public relations job. It's not a public health or science issue. We deserve a leader who can do a charm offensive and present our exports in the best possible light.

When Michael O'Leary has something important to get across he organises press conferences in Dublin, London and Frankfurt on the same day. He knows where his customer base is.

There's a man who's thriving during recession. There's a man making his own luck -- trying to take over Aer Lingus when airlines around the world are struggling or going belly up.

The Taoiseach can't shrug off his lack of luck as the random fall of the dice. He must work harder at persuading Lady Luck to smile on him.

The electorate is disappointed in him, and to offset that he could try to communicate with us -- persuade us on side.

He is articulate, but can come across as gruff. This is something his advisers ought to address with him because politics rely on presentation as well as content. Ask Obama.

We need to see some positive leadership, not this vacuum. It is essential in the Irish banking sector (we're still waiting for some sackings here, by the way). The Government is discussing a recapitalisation of the financial institutions, but so far no deal has been struck. In its absence, a pall of uncertainty lingers over the Irish stock market. Investors are in limbo and a stuttering start to 2009 is likely.

Perhaps Cowen thinks there are too many factors beyond his control. But luck can be made. It's what separates winners from losers.

It is possible for politicians to thrive on difficulties: Churchill did it during wartime Britain, Reagan did it when the US was in recession. Both turned misfortune into opportunity.

Cowen keeps missing opportunities to look credible. Having worked to get a national pay deal, he now appears to be indicating a possible renegotiation. He should either stand by the commitment -- or admit we can't afford it. Instead, he is sending out mixed signals.

Another way of making his own luck would be by surrounding himself with the best possible team. But his idea of a deputy is Mary Coughlan, who is simply not up to the job of Tanaiste and doesn't understand her brief at Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

And let's not forget her faux pas in staying in a glass-walled suite in the most prestigious hotel in Dubai, at a cost of €811 a night, when we've all been told we're living beyond our means by the Finance Minister.

There has been some discussion about Cowen making a state of the nation address to reassure us. I believe the moment has long passed. We are no longer convinced by him. Uncertainty is contagious and everyone is infected with it.

His ineptitude has become alarming. He doesn't seem to realise success doesn't just happen by chance, it is something you work towards.

As Anne Robinson might say: "Brian Cowen, you are the weakest link. Goodbye."

mdevlin@independent.ie

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