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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: February 6, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

    On the rebound

    Harry McGee

    Brian Cowen has had a good few terrible weeks in the 35 weeks since he became leader (about 32 I’d say). But this has been a great week for him. Twice he has dispensed with the scripts he hates and spoken from notes and from the heart. And it has worked.

    I happened to be in the hotel covering the story because of an different expectation. My paper was following the recapitalisation story all day and hoped he might say something. There were three of us at the door of the Four Seasons to do a doorstep with him. The other two left after he did the interview; there was no real reason for them to stay as we were told that little would happen.

    It was a standard after-dinner speech to the Dublin Chamber of Commerce. Cowen goes to more of these gigs than he has hot meals or pints (well, maybe!). The Government Information Service (GIS) sent out no advance notice. There were no expectations – even from his own staff – that he would do anything special. So he delivered the speech of his life with no cameras or press corpos or radio mikes present, as you would expected from such an important stump speech. As it happened, the Chamber of Commerce itself recorded the proceedings (as did I but on my iphone which would not really have been recordable copy).

    It was a tremendous speech. A colleague told me this morning that he must have learned wadges of it off by heart like Mary Harney (who never reads from a script but memorises all her speeches from beginning to end). And there were certainly a couple of lines that had the look of “here’s one I prepared earlier” about it. Including the one that stopped them in the aisles:

    “The one thing that characterise their success is their self-belief. If we decide to wallow in the sea of doubt do not be surprised if we remain in the turbulent waters that we are in today.”

    It was impressive. A strong passionate defence, a realistic assessment or where we are (mired in recession if you must know) and a smidgen of hope and determination… fighting talk. And there were borrowings from Obama especially in that exhortation with its effective repetition: “Jobs, jobs, jobs must be our priority”.

    February is going to be tough. Already, gaps are appearing in the €2b plan. Unions may very well mobilise on the streets. The economy will continue to sink like a pint of stout in the hands of you-know-who.

    But let’s call it like it is. Cowen had a good week this week. He has removed (if only temporarily) some of that huge doubt and uncertainty that has dogged his leadership for months.

    • Keith says:

      Jobs, jobs, jobs was around long before Obama!
      Don’t you remember Tony Blair’s “Education, Education, Education” speech? Once again, FF has to rob things from Labour to look good. ;-)

    • One speech delivered to a Dublin audience which comes from the heart is a good start – but it’s only a start. He needs to get around the country and sell himself – and get rid of the deadwood around him. I won’t name names – but try MC, DA, WOD and MC(WD) for starters – they are completely without redemption. We could go for EOC too – despite his pedigree. I’m no Labour fan but Eamon Gilmore has been the star of the show the past week, without doubt, and it seems to me that if a national government were to be formed, he should be in high office.

      This past week has shown the dearth of political talent in this country.

    • Paul says:

      I have followed Cowen’s speeches for a number of years now, both in and out of the Dáil. Not only because I am a Fianna Fáil supporter, but that I enjoy listening to people who can give sitrring orations, whether it be about the price of milk or the state of the world economy.

      When he wants to, Cowen can be very persuasive. Most of the time, these speeches never get coverage beyond their direct audience. Television rarely shows them and it would seem that they prefer devoting more time to the critics of speeches, rather than to the speeches themselves.

      Gilmore can deliver a good speech too, but Kenny is poor. I enjoyed watching the Labour conference last year, however, the Fine Gael conference was abysmal – from a speeches point of view.

      I hope that the media, both paper and television, would give more coverage to the day-to-day political and economic speeches delivered by all our TDs. The leadership is there but we just choose not to listen to them.

    • Markham says:

      Only journalist in the room, eh, Harry?

      I bet a few pol corrs around the country spit coffee on their Irish Times this morning.

      C’mon, admit it, it must have been nice….

    • Harry says:

      The only working journalist there – I’ve almost milked that one dry at this stage. So I’ll stop. Deas cloisint uaidh Concubhar O Liathain, a bhí mar leath-bhádoir ar chúrsa iriseoireacht a rinne muid na blianta fad ó shin!

    • Ian says:

      Well for starters, just because some hacks in the media think Brian Cowen made a great speech behind closed doors doesn’t necessarily prove he has the ability to lead the country out of a recession. I don’t think anyone in the real world will pay much attention to this.

      Secondly, his press handlers must be kicking themselves. The one time their boss allegedly makes a decent speech, it’s to the cosy business people who already vote Fianna Fáil and probably led us into this mess in the first place. So not only did the right audience (the ordinary people) not hear this speech, he probably convinced people who were already in thrall to him. And that begs questions about how good (or otherwise) this speech was to begin with.

      Let’s face it, the only headline is that he’s told the country their standard of living is dropping rapidly. Well done Brian!

    • ronan o'donnell says:

      Bit of a reality-check needed here:

      Rhetoric and verbiage do not shorten dole-queues.

    • Oonagh says:

      Making an impassioned and even stirring speech to a gropup of business men does not equate to leadership.

    • Brian Boru says:

      I resent his attempts to link Lisbon to the state of the economy. There is no such link. Cowen can give a speech, but Haughey’s ‘living beyond our means’ speech in the early 80′s was followed by a return to bad habits of runaway borrowing and spending and punitive taxation. Why should this be any different?

    • Lizzie Conway says:

      Hiya Harry,
      Why does writing those two words prompt me to giive you parental advice?! e.g. you don’t use an ‘an’ before a consonant -paragraph two, sentence one, of above article. (In case you don’t know, my son is called Harry). My resolution for 2009 is to take an interest in the goings-on in Ireland. Who is Brian Cowan and whatever became of Ernie, or Bertie, or whatever he was called?


    • Niall says:

      Jobs, Jobs, Jobs.

      So what’s Brian doing to get us some new jobs then?

    • When the ruling elite start to understand that the Greed must stop, we have some chance of getting this country back on track. There is no room in Ireland for freeloaders, tax exiles, Dáil Deputies with Pensions while sitting in the Dáil. Cut out the advisors and consultants: use the civil service, that’s what we pay them for.

      The Political Leaders Must:

      Cut all Dail salaries to a figure commensurate with the economy; no salary should exceed €200k.
      Stop all pensions for sitting TD’s and Senators.
      Stop all unvouched expenses.
      TD’s to pay tax on all income.
      Reduce the number of Junior Minister Posts to not more than 5.
      Hire private drivers for ministers and return the Gardai to the beat.
      Use scheduled transport for overseas travel.
      TD’s who are teachers and in Dail Eireann for more that 5 years must resign their post and in future no incremental payments will be made to TD’s while in office.
      The Banks:
      Limit the income of all bankers to not more than €300k.
      Use the surplus of what would have been paid to Bankers (i.e. €2.7 Million in BoI and €2Million in the case of AIB) to set up an
      enterprise grant scheme administered by local development teams where anyone setting up and employing 3 people will receive €30k grant in the first year.
      Provide 5 year interest only mortgages to hard pressed people where a job has been lost.
      Provide a 6 month repayment break for people losing their job with a review thereafter.
      With MABS work with the unemployed to ensure that homes are not repossessed.

      The Lawyers:
      Immediately shut down all tribunals as it appears that no charges will ever arise out of these hearings.
      Limit the fees paid to lawyers working free legal aid cases to a figure commensurate with the economy’s ability to pay.

      The Consultants:
      Revisit the new contract and reduce the salary to a level commensurate with the ability of the economy to pay.
      Open the operating rooms 24 hours a day.
      Use the funds saved on salary to improve the health system.

      The TAX Exiles and TAX Exempt
      End the system where citizens of Ireland can claim to be TAX exiles.
      Close loopholes where highly successful people involved in the arts are exempt from tax.

      A New Tax system
      Introduce two new tax bands: 60% for people earning over 150k and 70% for those over 250k.

      Ireland needs its entire people to pull together now; there is no room for a ruling class who can be shielded from the pain that we as a people allowed to happen. We must all work now to stop the GREED. Government does not need a Tax commission to start the process: do it now stop hiding behind this commission and that commission.


      Gerard P Craughwell

    • Paul O' Sullivan says:

      Mr. Cowen may prefer speaking unscripted, may feel more comfortable in front of smaller audiences (as Eoghan Harris stated on last Friday’s Late Late Show) and may know these ‘gigs’ inside out and take a certain comfort from that.

      The fact remains the Taoiseach is handsomely paid to deliver ‘tremendous’ speeches in the Dail and not lead the country from behind closed doors at functions that cost more than some weekly social welfare cheques.

      Until he does so, can we please reserve the back-slapping?

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