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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: January 28, 2011 @ 6:22 pm

    High Drama in Cowenland

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    So the race will be on at last when Brian Cowen fires the starter’s pistol on Tuesday afternoon in Dail Eireann. There has rarely been such a long lead-in to any poll. There seems to have been an endless overture before the grand opera finally began. 

    Not that we have been short of drama in the last couple of weeks. Last Saturday, your humble scribe went into town for shopping etc. Would he take his mini-recorder with him, just in case a story broke? Ach no, there’s nothing going to happen today.

    An hour later, there he is, sitting down with a coffee, ready for a leisurely ramble through the Saturday morning papers. Bing! A text message lands. Taoiseach to hold news conference in an hour’s time at the Merrion Hotel.

    Janey mac! What’s going on? Is he stepping down as party leader or as head of government? The location was a clue: if he was stepping down as Taoiseach he would do it across the street in Government Buildings. A tried and trusted source confirmed the only crown of thorns he is dispensing with today is the party one.

    The fundamental rule of news journalism is, when a story breaks, get to the scene asap. So the Merrion Hotel it is. The journos and camera crews are already gathering. It’s like Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. Every time you look, there is more of them.

    RTE’s “Saturdayview” rings to find out what’s going on. In a minute or so, the present writer is on the air, telling what he knows, confirming that a previously-impeccable source has confirmed Mr Cowen is giving up the Fianna Fail crown but keeping the prime minister’s role for the present.

    The Merrion is the site of the Duke of Wellington’s birthplace and a bust of the great man is staring uninterestedly into space beside me as I respond to questions on the phone.

    The journos are finally being allowed into the Wellesley Room for the news conference but I am so wrapped up in my broadcast that I hardly realise the place is almost full. Quick –grab a seat!

    Cowen arrives. His face is composed but what a turbulence of emotions must be raging behind that stiff upper lip. He makes his announcement and the questioning starts. It is bloody hard to get a question in, but finally someone acknowledges my flailing hand.

    Politics to me is primarily a human drama. Thus I frame my question in the context of a recent column in The Irish News where Denis Bradley, a respected figure in the peace process, compared Cowen to John Hume, arguing that they both did the right thing, regardless of the cost in party-political terms. Did Cowen feel he had paid the price for doing what was right rather than what was popular?

    It’s not the usual type of question I would have asked him. Normally I would be trying to catch him out on some issue, and so would every other reporter. For example, it was I who highlighted his negative attitude to the other parties in the first Lisbon referendum campaign, a story that caused the Cowen camp considerable upset. But on the day that was in it, I would have been ashamed if I hadn’t put this alternative and highly-unfashionable perspective to him.

    A prominent broadcast journalist berated me in abrupt tones afterwards, pointing to Cowen’s social contacts with the Anglo-Irish Bank people as damning (?) evidence  that he was involved in the usual Fianna Fail-style crony capitalism. That’s what I should have focused on, he said, and on any other day I probably would have. There is an alternative narrative in recent Irish politics which suggests that History may be kind to Brian Cowen in the end, whatever about present-day public opinion. I don’t necessarily buy into that narrative but thought it was worth putting it to him. A secondary but not entirely insignificant factor is that you don’t kick a man when he is down – at least this reporter doesn’t.

    • jojo says:

      i am leaving a comment’ because I’m drunk and , for no other reason, really… all the same, it’s The Irish Times and There might be someone who reads this and lives back home, and who genuinrly appreciates the gravity of the situuation.I’ll call it it how I see it… we’re f***ed as a species ( irish are not separate).,,,gombeens, flat-caps, county and provincial divides, a political system that is childish even within the illusion of the european project. Do the right thing as a person. I sound like a preachy c**t, but no government.regardless of foundation ,perceived legitimatcy or power is worth prostrating yourself in front of,. Ireland is home but we are a joke of a people, content to laugh it off when it`s ‘one of our own’. ..i can’t vote but I would f***in’ love if democratic muscle was steroided and flexed to bury these dossers,pimps and guzzlers. No respect …get them a bodybag.

    • Robespierre says:

      One of the reasons why I read your blog is that you comes across as a fundamentally decent skin. I was listening to the press conference and heard you ask the question. As you are no doubt aware, the are three levels to questioning, exploration, discovery and confirmation.

      Most of the questions put to Cowen were level 2 questions or binary confirmation style questions which tend to leave little to explore and are relatively easy to deflect. The assume a level of understanding of the genesis of a situation that is probably far too presumptive.

      When I am working with clients I would never start any workshop or interview with anything other than open, exploratory questions. Otherwise, I would learn less than may be possible and would be in less of a position to add value and independent analysis of their business.

      I tend to think if one is swimming against the stream and it is based on sound reasoning that you are probably doing something right. After all, it is you that is challenged with the rubbish of Orwellian doublespeak.

      The one thing I still cannot understand adequately is RTE’s OBSESSION with Fianna Fáil. It has been like pravda for the last two weeks – wall to wall exposure for FF. You would not see it on France 1 or Europe or the Today programme in the UK.

    • Eoin says:

      I think that Brian is not so much the victim. His former master Bertram held out the poisoned apple of power to him and like Snow White just had to try it out. I bet now that Brian is saying “What a fool I was” to himself. History will remember him as the hand at the tiller when the ship went down, but he was also an architect and designer of the ship of fools. Remember he was the minister of finance who came in after Charlie McCreevy had started hand rearing the Celtic Kitten and was there to oversee all the chaotic spending of the boom years. Sure even if he decides to retire on Tuesday like Bertie he will walk away, with his huge pension, and two fingers held up to the nation.

    • Michael Jennings says:

      This journalist. Reporters like this one are almost part of the establishment ! Over paid, over indulged and becoming irrelevant. Hopefuly you and your ilk will fade away.

    • Betterworld Now says:

      Not being a resident of planet Fianna Fail, I can’t think of one instace where your former dear leader “did the right thing”. Perhaps you could remind us?

    • O. B. Server says:

      That recent image (Irish Times online Jan 29th) http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2011/0129/1224288526702.html
      What I see is FG’s Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy (Enda Kenny & Michael Noonan) struggling to ingratiate themselves with José M. Barroso on a recent absolutely ineffectual-waste-of-tax-payers-money-pre-election-stunt-visit-to-Brussels reminds me of certain Laurel & Hardy movies — “The Flying Deuces” (1939), “Block Heads” (1938), “Saps at Sea” (1940), “Flying Elephants” (1928), “Sugar Daddies” (1927), “Wrong Again” (1929, “Call of the Cuckoo” (1927) — Aw, just take your pick!

    • SM says:

      “A secondary but not entirely insignificant factor is that you don’t kick a man when he is down – at least this reporter doesn’t.” well fair play to ya…. its a pity he didn’t think the same way about all the people in the country he helped kick when they were down…. as of this morning the minimum wage is down to 7.65 and hour and is taxable…. hospitals are still overcrowded with patients and understaffed… children are still being taught in prefabs….. what a legacy… at least he left with his “integrity” intact…. i need a copy of his dictionary, as my definition of integrity is very different……


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