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Terry Prone: Why Brian Cowen will be remembered as a man who wanted to do very little -but ended up doing us in

How about we don't bitch about the size of his golden handshake?

How about we hold off, just for a minute, any comments about him and Seanie Fitz golfing while Ireland burned?

Instead, on the day he goes to Aras an Uachtarain to relinquish his office and his career -- let's look at the tragedy of Brian Cowen's well-meant life.

It's a tragedy because -- right now -- the majority of the Irish people, and of the Fianna Fail party, just want Brian Cowen to disappear and be forgotten.

Yet the man set out to do the best for the nation and for his party and for his local area from the moment he took over as TD in the wake of his father's early death.

Even last night, when he announced his withdrawal from politics, he chose to do it on his local radio station, Midlands 103FM.

Give the neighbouring lads a boost, rather than head for Montrose and the RTE studios.

In addition, last night, he went to great lengths to discount any suggestion of a rift between him and the new leader, and to emphasise that he departs without bitterness. Or, as he put it at the weekend, "Nobody died."


That, according to those close to him, is classic Cowen. He doesn't take things personally. He knows that even when you get impaled by a harpoon and are trying to pull it out without bringing your liver and kidney out on its prongs, that's just politics.

And therein lies the centre of Brian Cowen's sad story: an acceptance that s*** happens.

His attitude has always been like the cultural attitude in Uganda, where, when someone drops a plate on the floor and it shatters, the plate-dropper sees the incident as separate from themselves.

"The plate broke," they say, shrugging.

Brian Cowen's tendency to assume that plates just break by themselves was concealed for many years from himself and from Fianna Fail by his bullish oratory at Ard Fheiseanna, which made him look like the determined activist he never was.

Guys like Noel Dempsey and Dermot Ahern, once handed a Ministry, went into their departments egging for action.

When Brian Cowen was handed a Ministry, he egged for no action.


In his early days in the Department of Health, the signs were obvious to the civil servants, but the illusion of energy and purpose continued to wrap around him as far as his own followers were concerned.

The same pattern happened in the Department of Finance.

Unlike Charlie McCreevey, who went into that Department determined to put in place one wizard wheeze per day, whether it was SSIAs or tax incentives for the horse racing industry, Brian Cowen did not actively seek to benefit any vested interest -- which is one of the reasons he somewhat wistfully pointed out that he leaves with his integrity intact.

The problem was that he didn't actively do ANYTHING.

The plate broke on his watch, but he still doesn't see that he dropped it.

When he became Taoiseach, for himself and his family, it was the ultimate validation, the ultimate reward, and he promised to give it all he had.

Unfortunately, all he had simply wasn't enough.

He conducted Cabinet meetings well, we're told by those who were at them.


But he never grasped the need to initiate, to look and sound like a leader, rather than looking and sounding like a provincial solicitor.

His time in office was a short, but infinitely sharp, misunderstanding between him and the nation.

Even overnight, that misunderstanding continued.

The new leader of his party didn't need to have Brian Cowen all over the media today, when Micheal Martin had announced a new frontbench.

But the new leader's people shrug: Brian Cowen's timing was congruent with the rest of his career. No harm intended. S*** happens.

The plate simply broke....