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Martina Devlin: The F-word now haunting Brian Cowen is FitzPatrick

As for Fianna Fail, Cowen could be outed as Osama bin Laden and he still wouldn't be replaced as Taoiseach so close to the General Election

ISEE that Mark Twain's novel charting the adventures of Huckleberry Finn is to be reissued, with the N-word edited out and replaced by 'slave' -- in the interests of multicultural sensitivities.

Wherever Mark Twain might be -- he recommended heaven for the climate and hell for the company -- he's bound to feel dismay about his work being prettied up. But I can think of at least one man who'd welcome the suppression of other unpalatable words.

Top of Brian Cowen's list of politically incorrect terms has to be the S-word. As in 'Seanie'. Close association with the S-word is poisonous and throws the body politic into convulsions. While the consequences aren't necessarily fatal -- it depends on the level of contamination -- they are harmful to political health.

Anyone linked with the S-word needs an immediate cordon sanitaire. Especially quick to insist on quarantine are rivals with an eye on the patient's job.

First out of the traps was Mary Hanafin, who described Cowen's undisclosed encounters with the former Anglo Irish Bank chairman as unhelpful -- code for stupid, damaging, and "there's no way I'm letting your contagion spread to me".

Coincidentally, Seanie is more than just an S-word in relation to Cowen, it is an N-word as well. As in 'N-word in the woodpile' -- an outdated figure of speech, now regarded as racist, which means a hidden fact of potential significance.

The Taoiseach's failure to put on the record a number of contacts with Seanie in 2008, when he was Finance Minister and the economic crisis was gaining momentum, is prejudicial to him. Any communication with the public face of the banking collapse has the potential to turn septic.

Cowen was famously dubbed 'Minister for Angola' after being said to compare his time at the Department of Health to the African state, but it now appears as if his years in Finance amount to landmine-riddled territory. Seanie is only the latest in a string of suspect devices.

Incidentally, I heard PR man Paul Allen remark, quite casually, on Sean Moncrieff's Newstalk show this week that Cowen never did compare his time in Health to Angola -- that he, Paul Allen, made up the quote. He seemed to believe inventing snappy one-liners with no basis in truth was integral to his job description.

I waited for the Taoiseach's contribution to the Dail debate yesterday without any great hope that we'd be much wiser about his interaction with Seanie. Clarity is not something we associate with this leader.

The only detail Cowen illuminated was that he rarely plays golf, which makes it all the odder that he should choose to tee off with Seanie. And more peculiar again that he didn't once discuss the bank's business with its figurehead while they navigated the course.

People will make up their own minds. As for Fianna Fail, Cowen could be outed as Osama bin Laden and he still wouldn't be replaced as Taoiseach so close to the General Election. If senior members of his party didn't move against him after Garglegate, they won't now.

So we may resign ourselves to the sight of Cowen in a green tie beside Barack Obama, camera flashes popping while he hands over a bowl of shamrock just days before the election which will remove him from office.

Is this prospect abhorrent? Yes. A Taoiseach clinging to power by his fingernails, whose party is in the process of imploding even before the electorate delivers its verdict, is a substandard representative for our country on the world stage. And we need superior representatives now more than ever.

Is this prospect necessary? Yes again. Cowen is our head of government. Traditionally, the invitation goes from the White House to the holder of this role -- not to Seamus Heaney or Gabriel Byrne or anyone else we think we might prefer to do the honours for a change.

It has been suggested that Mary McAleese should step up with the Waterford glass bowl instead of Cowen. No doubt she could deliver a lyrical speech, but her role is ceremonial -- she is not our head of government.

Access to the US President provides a useful opportunity to do business. Many stupid things have been done in our name in the past two years, but it would be truly idiotic of Ireland to surrender this perk-- to revert to the days when an Irish ambassador dropped in a bowl of shamrock at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue without meeting the incumbent.

For one day at least every year, Ireland is on the international agenda. It has acted in our interest in the past, it can benefit us again.

WHILE Cowen holds office, no matter how close to being toppled, he is entitled to carry out a Taoiseach's duties. President McAleese's place is to be in Ireland on our national day, her presence a reminder to tourists of the importance we attach to March 17. We want to encourage more tourists to come here for the festival, not send out a message that they might as well go elsewhere.

By the way, we have to take tourism more seriously -- figures fell to a 12-year low last year. We must offer tourists something extra, not just in terms of value for money but in the welcome we offer them. Ireland is not an upbeat place to visit right now.

Those opposed to Cowen's visit to Washington complain he will use it as an election poster. Indeed he will. Any politician would. But it will take more than an armful of lucky shamrock to improve his poll ratings -- with or without the shadow of the S-word overhanging his government's decision to pass on Anglo's debts to the Irish people.

mdevlin@independent.ie

Irish Independent