BRIAN Cowen spent hours in the Dail bar drinking with a clique while the "country was going down the tubes", it has been claimed.
TD Mattie McGrath made the comment following accusations that Mr Cowen's drinking buddies influenced him heavily and sidelined the Fianna Fail parliamentary party.
"It was ridiculous. There were serious issues to be discussed. I know they were entitled to have a drink and entitled to socialise, but it was a pity, because the country was going down the tubes. I don't think they weren't concerned but they had a funny way of dealing with it," Mr McGrath told the Herald.
And former Green TD Paul Gogarty said you could "smell the drink" off some TDs, both Fianna Fail and Fine Gael, who frequented the Dail bar.
They wouldn't be in a sober state, he added.
South Tipperary Independent deputy Mr McGrath said there was "certainly" a clique around Mr Cowen.
"If you wanted to find him you'd find him there (in the Dail bar). At night-time, I'm talking about. There was that clique, but I was different from the rest -- I would just walk into the middle of them, and I know they'd cut the socks off me when I left, but I'd say what I had to say and I'd leave," said the TD, who was expelled from the Fianna Fail parliamentary party last year.
Former Fianna Fail junior minister John McGuinness also said an exclusive clique developed around Mr Cowen.
He made the claim in the latest instalment of the TV documentary The Rise And Fall Of Fianna Fail.
"Those who socialised in the bar with the Taoiseach were the ones who had the ear of the Taoiseach," Mr McGuinness said of the dying days of Mr Cowen's administration. "An insider/outsider experience began to creep into the party, and those that were outside that set were very definitely outside it," the Fianna Fail TD added.
Former party whip Tom Kitt remarked: "Brian had a number of friends he would socialise with, have a drink with.
"I'm not going to be judgmental on that, because he is entitled to have a drink with his friends. My only criticism of that is that perhaps there was a sense within the party that this was an exclusive group."
Mr Cowen was at the centre of a storm over a year ago when he was hoarse and incoherent on RTE radio, giving rise to the 'Garglegate' controversy.
Current minister Simon Coveney tweeted at the time that Mr Cowen was "halfway between drunk and hung over".
It led to international notoriety, with top US comic Jay Leno mocking him and depicting him as a drunk.
Mr McGuinness, who was removed from his junior ministerial position along with six others in April 2009, said: "They (the clique) were friends of the Taoiseach... is how you would describe them. He would socialise with them, he would be supported by them. He would probably be informed by them in terms of the goings-on within the parliamentary party."
Mr McGrath told the Herald: "Some of them (the clique) got carried away and they thought they were... I don't know what they thought. When I arrived he (Mr Cowen) would say something smart about South Tipperary or smart about me. I accepted and maybe retort with something and deliver my message and move on."
However, another junior minister, John Moloney, said: "The impression is created that Brian Cowen spent his time at the Dail bar; that is not true. Brian Cowen had that ability, unlike many politicians, of retaining the same friends over the past 30 years."