Bertie's attack sparks a new crisis for Taoiseach

Outburst: Supporters slow to back Cowen after critical interview

Kevin Doyle

IT'S a parting shot worthy of the "most devious of them all" and could spark a fresh leadership crisis for the Taoiseach.

Just as Brian Cowen thought that he had cleared enough air to let him lead Fianna Fail into the General Election, his old foe Bertie Ahern has popped up with a sensational attack.

Mr Cowen has so far refused to respond to suggestions that he didn't do enough to prevent an IMF/EU bailout and that his communication skills were majorly flawed.

The claims were made by Mr Ahern in the same British tabloid for which he agreed to be filmed sitting in a cupboard as part of an advertising campaign.

But the only high-profile TD to publicly come out in defence of the Taoiseach was Defence Minister Tony Killeen, who described Ahern's comments as "a little unfair".

Most within Fianna Fail were today remaining tight-lipped on Ahern's outburst but one TD said that colleagues were privately fuming with Mr Ahern for "attempting to rewrite history".

"It's all about preserving his own legacy at this stage. He's throwing mud because it distracts people from his own involvement," said one TD.

As he walked away from political life with an annual pension pot of €148,000, Mr Ahern charged that his successor "might have taken the wolves from the door" by reacting faster to the Greek bailout in May.


On Thursday night, Mr Cowen described the retiring Drumcondra TD as "a person of rare ability and extraordinary talent", but in return Ahern launched a very direct attack on the Taoiseach.

"If you ask me, my view is you're better doing it my way -- but he [Cowen] opted not to do that," he said.

"I think I would have been good if I was there throughout the crisis. I'm not saying I would have prevented the economic recession.

"I do think my long experience, and the good contacts I had around the world, would have been helpful. But it wasn't to be."

Ahern also questioned the Government's and Finance Minister Brian Lenihan's reaction to the economic crisis.

"I didn't have the inside story, but I did worry a little bit when I saw the Greek situation happen.

"I wondered if this would roll on to other countries. I wondered what was going on at the Central Bank and the Department of Finance and Taoiseach's Department?

"What contingency plans did they start doing in May when the red lights were flashing?"

Mr Ahern went on to ask: "Did they not see in May? Were there not things they could have done from May to November to try and avoid the bailout?


"If the answer to that is they did look and there wasn't a solution, then fine. But I don't know if they even did take that view, and if they did examine all the options.

"I think it's a fair question."

Speaking about Mr Cowen's leadership methods, Ahern said that his own communications skills were far superior.

"I always took the view -- and maybe it's a difference in style -- that you go out there every day and you talk to the media and do your bit.

"I did that and I did it all the time. When I went, the guys took a different view. They took the view they wouldn't go out very often and do the daily doorsteps."

He added: "I do think it's more important now. You have to communicate. We live in a 24/7 Ireland, and while I don't think the Taoiseach has to be out every hour, he should be out regularly."