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Terry Prone: One reason we're all so angry is Cowen's inability to tell truth

THE Opposition and the public have now decided that Brian Cowen has been lying all along. That's not necessarily true, but he has communicated so badly that he has raised, rather than lowered, the level of fear throughout the country.

It was Roosevelt, who dealt magnificently with the onset of the American Depression, who said that the shadow of fear is longer than fear itself. Longer -- and more destructive.

The flip side of fear is loathing, and that's where we're at, right now. Because as the IMF, ECB and EU settles in for an extended stay in our capital, the nation is baffled, confused and uninformed, it is furious, and people are directing that ire at the Taoiseach.

Poker

Cowen's people (a steadily diminishing number), would say he has given as much information to the man and wan in the street as humanly possible, while trying to leave our negotiation options open.

They would further point out that, in the past, when countries were about to devalue their currency, it was accepted that the Prime Minister and Finance Minister could, effectively, lie to the public and the international markets coming up to that devaluation, to prevent speculation against the currency which would render the action pointless.

Cowen's people would say this is more or less what he has been doing.

Indeed, Batt O'Keeffe, yesterday, talked blithely about the Government playing poker with the IMF/ECB guys.

Economists would understand Batt's point. Because we are in such a weak situation, we are, paradoxically, in a strong situation to negotiate with the fiscal VIP visitors.

We can show them that if they don't rescue us, we won't sink into devastation on our own.

If our banks go down, they take institutions like Ulster Bank with them. Ulster Bank is now owned by a banking group owned by the British government, so the implications for the British economy are enormous and dire. Similarly, if one economy, even a small one like ours goes down, the damage to the euro is incalculable.

One professor of economics has said, off the record, that if this bailout doesn't work, the euro, as a currency, has less than a year's life ahead of it.

That incentivises others to rescue us. It's good for Britain if we stay afloat, because they're a big seller of goods to us and their banking system would be severely dented by a financial institutions crash here.

Soundbites

All of that makes sense and in part explains the Taoiseach's communications. But only in part. In the beginning of Brian Cowen's term, most commentators said that he was very clever and a great communicator.

Whatever about the first, the second is provably untrue. Compare what Professor Honohan said yesterday with what Brian Cowen said and the outcome is obvious. You understand the first, you don't understand the second.

Cowen never says anything simply. He never says "This is going to happen. This is why it's going to happen. This will be the end result." At the end of any of his statements, the listener doesn't know whether it's Christmas or Tuesday.

Plus, he breaks one of the essential rules of communication: never to repeat the words of an accusation. When a journalist told him yesterday that the Irish people were humiliated and ashamed, he repeated the words, thereby generating great soundbites reminding people of just how humiliated and ashamed they were at the arrival of the external rulers of our finances.

When another hack accused him of talking in riddles, he repeated that, too. His tone is impatient, irritated, as if communicating were an infuriating non-essential, rather than a central function of his role.

Worst of all, in the media management of the arrival of the IMF/ECB guys. Why have them arrive so publicly? Why did they go in the front door?

Cowen -- and the Government -- are communicating in a way that might have worked 20 years ago. It sure as hell doesn't work now.


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