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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 5, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

    Cowen – you think it’s all over?

    Harry McGee

    Event: The Lisbon Treaty falls.

    Implicaton: Brian Cowen’s reign as Taoiseach is off to a rocky start.

    Event: The economy plunges south.

    Implication: There are serious question marks about his leadership qualities and decisiviness.

    Event: Cowen shows leadership qualities and decisiveness by announcing swinging cut-backs.

    Implication: There are serious question marks about his leadership qualities and decisiviness.

    Event: Brian Lenihan makes a gaffe. So does Mary Coughlan (a couple in fact).

    Implication: Cowen’s judgement in selecting two naive novices is dodgy

    Events: House prices plummet. Interest rates creep up. Unemployment shoots up.

    Implication: Cowen’s leadership begins to look precarious.

    Event: Pay talks fail.

    Implication: Cowen’s rickety-leadership future is hanging on by a thread.

    Brian Cowen has had a lousy start as Taoiseach, the job that has been predicted as his station in life for over a decade. Yep, there has been a great deal of ‘events, dear boy, events’ to his first three months in the job. But there have been several instances in which also shown surprising indecision, for somebody who was for so long seen as the natural successor.

    Already a lot of the profiles being written about Cowen are going way beyond doubt. To the extent that they are reading like political obituaries. And when anything goes wrong – no matter how trivial – the story is no longer taken on its own merits. It’s tied into the fate of Cowen – becoming another nail in the coffin; another of the thousand cuts.

    Therefore, it was deeply unsurprsing to read a couple of headlines over the weekend linking the failure of the pay talks with Cowen’s future.

    Of course, he’s in some bother right now. And he’s also getting an early taster of what Bertie Ahern learned after ten years – about the mortality and obsolescence of political careers.

    But it’s still too early to make any real judgement on Cowen. It’s not unknown for teams (especially Offaly hurling teams) to make very slow starts. We have also been quick to forget that most Taoisigh in the past 20 year have had traumatic beginnings. Take his immediate predecessor. Ahern wasn’t very surefooted in the beginning and had to deal at a very early stage with career-ending allegations surrounding his choice as Minister for Foreign Affairs Ray Burke.

    It’s not to say that Cowen should be given some kind of dispensation for the first three months. Sure, he had enough time as the apprentice to know what was entailed. Sure, he should have known exactly what to expect. But for all that, it’s still too early. The time to start making judgements is in the autumn when he formulates the Government’s response to Lisbon and in December when Lenihan announces his first Budget.

    • Jack O'Bite says:

      He is a dead man walking. Hardly surprising, considering the suicide pass delivered to him by his predecessor.

    • Harry says:

      I posted this just before the Exchequer figures come out. We’re now looking for Cowen’s battling qualities. But even if there’s fight in the dog, the whole thing is becoming more and more reminiscent of the knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail who loses all his limbs but still insists he is game for more.

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Harry, one has to wonder if there isn’t a lesson in the ascension of Cowen and Brown by acclamation in that neither were probed and prodded a la the US primary candidates. No one really knows what their views and abilities are. Bar calling the health department Angola can anyone remember one thing that Cowen did that left a lasting impression in any department he headed?

    • paul m says:

      Okay so we’re all very good at pointing the finger and picking out the problems. someone tell me then wherein lies the solution?

      I’m not a huge fan of Cowen but have yet, as is said here, to also see his battling qualities. But as the months trundle on I become more concerned at the lack of decisive action to turn this mess around.

      So how can this be solved, if Cowen does step down as so many people seem eager for him to do so whats the alternative? Anyone?

      Another bloody election where we have months wasted of parties bickering about who’s fault it is we’ve dug this hole so deep and no clear leadership or suggestions of a viable solution? A leadership challege by one of the numerous headless chickens flocking around him at the moment? if you think Cowen cant inspire any confidence in people right now image his number 2 or 3 in the driving seat, oh the carnage.

      So many suggestions of what’s going wrong how about listing some solutions. Mine is to exercise public pressure, a call from people rather than the press sharpening their pens would allow the government to pull its head out of the sand and start some straight talking eg we screwed up now we cant go back and change it we have to go forward so lets all stick together, stop ranting and start thinking (as a nation we’re incredibly good at that) and get proactive (not so good at) to shore up the most vunerable areas that will get our country back on track.

    • Eoin says:

      “Cowen’s rickety-leadership future is hanging on by a thread.”

      I read that and thought ‘Well you’d hardly be exaggerating there now would ya?’. But then I read on and realised that was the point of your post. Well done.

      Cowen’s situation is not unlike Gordon Brown’s in that no matter how bad things get for him, his party is struggling to find a replacement of similar ability.

    • Harry says:

      Cowen has flattered to deceive in the past. He has left few souvenirs to posterity behind in any of the departments he has led and has been more cautious than his (sometimes) bellicose public image suggests. I can’t agree with Dan’s assessment. He was so feted when succeeding Bertie that people expected him to be a success from day one. Now, in a markedly different political scenario, there has been some hasty revisionism going on.
      I suppose the point that I was making was we must wait a little longer before making any final assessments. He is no Iain Duncan Smith who was a disaster from day one. On the other hand, it’s fair to say that it’s improbable that he will have the kind of longevity that Bertie and Blair had.

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