Cowen off the cuff but still off the track
It has been one of few moments that Brian Cowen has been on fire since becoming Taoiseach.
Last year, he stood up at the Dublin Chamber of Commerce Annual Dinner and, without warning, delivered a master class in rhetoric. First of all let’s pile up the negatives. His lacklustre record as Taoiseach. His general inaccessibility. His mule-like refusal to come out and tell it like it is. His gruesome prose. His secretive instincts. Suspicion of the media.
True, too, that the audience wasn’t exactly composed of ordinary citizens, rather the great and the good of business paying a fair whack per plate.
Still, it was Cowen’s best 17 minutes as Taoiseach, delivering a speech that came from the heart rather than from p32, footnote 21 of Volume II of dry meaningless speeches for Ministers and Taoisigh.
He did much the same last night, delivering an extemporore speech that lasted for 20 minutes. It was an Obama speech, general in nature without specific commitments. There were several themes that he obviously played around in his mind before delivering it. A strong and robust rejection of the notion that the property collapse was the sole cause of the recession. An invocation to citizens to prepare to take tough medicine now allow a better Ireland for future generations. And an appeal to people’s patriotism, calling on them to think not of the state of being in 2010 but work towards a six-year goal, have a restored economy by the time of the Easter Rising centenerary and all its important symbolism.
Unlike last year, there was a posse of reporters there last night. Here’s my new report on the speech.
The impact wasn’t the same as last year. There was much happening elsewhere. The DUP and Sinn Fein came to an agreement short of midnight. The Central Bank was in the soup over spouses’ travel. And the Finance Bill was also published.
Nor did the speech reach the heady heights of last year. In fact, if you removed the 1916 trope, the sentiments were almost exactly the same, a general rallying call for citizens to take the pain now for later gain.
Not too much wrong with that. Obama’s powers of oratorial delivery can sometimes disguise a lack of new content. Sometimes as a leader, you also need to repeat key points.
And in that context, it was a relative success.
1. Cowen needs to do it far more often.
2. He needs to chose audiences that are less select and elite than a chamber of commerce
3. He needs to make himself more available to communicate what the government is doing without resorting to meaningless twaddle (he actually used the appalling word counterfactual in a recent interview).
4. He needs to be less suspicious. (Before the North intervened, he was due to travel to Cork today. There was a media ‘doorstep’ opportunity. However, it stated that he would accept questions issues pertaining to his trip only. That smacked of censorship and the controlling instincts of the current Government).