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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 28, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

    State of the Nation, Gargantuan and Jargontuan.

    Harry McGee

    Last August I wrote a story that Brian Cowen was planning to deliver a state of the nation address sometime in September (see the original story here) . It was sourced impeccably, from a minister who should know these things.

    It didn’t happen. I got it in the ear from the handlers with plenty of scoffage every time it was mentioned.

    I resorted to the default excuse of the Indo’s former political editor Chris Glennon: “I was right at the time”.

    How my little heart soared on Monday evening (and my ego too – I am a journalist after all) to hear that six – yes six – TDs and Senators had urged Cowen to make a State of the Nation address about the economic situation.

    There has been concern among the troops about Cowen’s reticence and his lack of presence. For two months, every time he made a public utterance he either mumbled, or was too vague, or went into a long spiel chock-a-block with jargon. The was Cowen the Jargontuan.

    Well on Monday  he told it like it his to his Fianna Fail colleagues at the parliamentary party meeting. His fortright, direct mode of address signalled a change of tack, and perhaps, a return to form. To borrow Enda Kenny’s New Testament metaphor, the saviour had returned after wandering for 40 days in the desert.

    Has the Gargantuan returned? I personally thought that he was strong yesterday and that his impassioned (almost emotional) defence of his handling of the crisis worked. He had two audiences… those in front of him and those behind him on the backbenches of Government. The FF backwoodsmen would have been happy with the bench-thumping Tony Soprano stuff. Some of my colleagues believe that that gruffness and aggression doesn’t wash with Joe Public out there. I’m not inclined to agree. I think that’s what people expect (and want) from Cowen (though that will turn some people off). When Australia elected Paul  Keating as prime minister they knew they would get a leader with a poisonous tongue. Cowen is Biffo. That’s his image. That’s what he’s best at. Maybe I’m wrong on this but when he tries to be moderate, statesmanlike and diplomatic he bores us all to distraction. And he only offers us two choices – Jargontuan or Gargantuan – with no middle ground.

    Of course, he’s taken a massive gamble by cleaving to the social partnership model. If the talks unravel this weekend or if there’s any signs of a fudge or of backsliding, he will quickly find himself back in the wilderness roaring to no one in particular.

    • Harry says:

      An addendum nó focal scoir. After a whole month, they have agreed to talk about €2 billion in cuts. But when you look at the wider picture, they need to find a total of €17 billion in cuts over the next five years to bring borrowing back to below 3 per cent of the General Government Deficit. Phew. It’s painful even to think about it.

    • Harry says:

      And a correction: My much more ancient colleague and fellow IT blogger Deaglán de Bréadún points out that what Chris Glennon used to say was:
      “It was true when I wrote it.”

    • steve white says:

      I’m sorry, Cowen does have to answer questions and tell us what he intends to do and why, leaser’s questions is there to answer the people not the opposition parties.

    • Harry says:

      True, Steve. That blog post tapered off a little at the end. I do think that Cowen should make a SOTN speech. Maybe he’s put off by memories of Haughey but he, that was 29 years ago. He needs to… Get over it!

    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Harry, I wonder if one of the things holding Cowen back is that FG would demand (and I’m almost sure would be legally entitled to) equal time to present their own views. FG would be free to chose their format and might well decide to present a team of people ready to tackle the problem instead of matching Enda head to head with Brian. The last thing Cowen wants right now is to give prime-time exposure to FG to allow them to say, we’re aware of what the problems are, we warned of the dangers of them years ago but the Government chose not to listen, and here’s that nice Richard Bruton, who most of you out there all reckon knows what he’s talking about, to remind you that if only FG were in office and he in finance we’d all feel a good bit more confident that we were going to come out of this reasonably intact.

      And then Labour and everyone else would look for a few minutes too.


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