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Andrew Lynch: Brian, all this talk of 1916 will do nothing to lift our spirits now

Was it for this that the men and women of 1916 died? So that almost a century later a desperately unpopular Taoiseach could exploit their memory by urging the Irish people to accept tax hikes with the same spirit of patriotism?

Nobody can see into the minds of Patrick Pearse or James Connolly at this stage, of course, but somehow you get the feeling they might have hoped for something a bit more inspiring than that.

In many ways, Brian Cowen's speech to the annual Dublin Chamber of Commerce dinner last night showed exactly why his term in office has been such a miserable failure.

It was full of hackneyed ideas and tired old phrases, the sort of clapped-out rhetoric that went out of style a generation ago. To put it bluntly, the Taoiseach is not exactly in touch with the zeitgeist -- and that's why the zeitgeist is itching to replace him as soon as it gets a chance.

At the same event last year, Cowen gave a rallying call that those present said was his most electrifying performance since becoming leader of Fianna Fail. The rest of us, of course, just had to take their word for it. Because expectations for the event were so understandably low, only a low-quality audio recording exists. Last night's event may have been captured on film, but it's safe to predict that it won't become a YouTube sensation any time soon. By Cowen's normal standards, it was a slightly above average performance.

Awful

The problem is, his average these days is pretty awful -- and if he saves what he thinks are his best lines for speeches to a few hundred business leaders that get a few seconds on the evening news, then he really is as doomed as the opinion polls suggest. Why has Cowen failed to make any kind of emotional connection with the country he's supposed to lead?

A lot of theories have been suggested, but the truth is probably very simple -- people just find him boring.

While Bertie Ahern's inner personality was a source of constant fascination, with his successor what you see is what you get -- a gruff, plain-spoken country solicitor, decent but dull, with what used to be politely described as a "charismatic deficit". There are times you feel a Bertie-type financial scandal might actually do him some good, in that at least it would jazz up his image a bit.

Even worse, Cowen himself often seems to be bored by a job that at least 20 TDs in Leinster House would cheerfully kill for. His television appearances are usually gloomy and lacklustre, the sort of thing that makes even a political junkie reach for the remote control.

When he's roused by aggressive questioning, as he was on Ryan Tubridy's first Late Late Show, he can show glimpses of something more impressive -- but what he doesn't seem to appreciate is that when you're in the top job, you have to be 'switched on' all the time.

In other words, Cowen is almost certainly destined to be a caretaker Taoiseach who just keeps things ticking over before somebody more interesting comes along. At a time of economic calm, that's a job he could probably do reasonably well. In a national crisis, he simply looks like the wrong man in the wrong place.

Sacrifice

That's why hoary old references to the 1916 Rising just aren't going to cut it in 2010. As hard as it might be for FF diehards to appreciate, that sort of language it means nothing to either the iPad generation or most of their parents. In any case, trying to resurrect the spirit of the GPO on O'Connell Street is a bit of a sham -- the Taoiseach can appeal for a voluntary sacrifice all he wants, but the sneaky stealth taxes contained in yesterday's Finance Bill don't exactly give us much choice in the matter.

The 100th anniversary of 1916 should certainly be an interesting event. The one thing we know for sure is that Brian Cowen won't be the Taoiseach who leads it.


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