Offaly Nice Farewell in Tullamore
Deaglán de Bréadún
For a man who is generally quite low-key, if you exclude the occasional Dail outburst, Brian Cowen has sure been generating plenty of excitement in recent weeks. Tonight was the penultimate act before the anticipated valedictory address when he winds up the 30th Dail in a few hours’ time, prior to the general election.
Your humble scribe dutifully covered a Labour Party press conference yesterday morning. For the duration of the campaign, Labour is ensconced on the fourth floor of the Latin Hall, a five-storey building at the back of Dublin Castle in a place called Golden Lane.
There is no indication as to why it is called the Latin Hall. Maybe it has something to do with the Argentinian restaurant a few doors away, which I keep meaning to try out. Anway, the view of the old parts of Dublin is excellent even though the conference room is a little airless and could be a problem if there was a bigger crowd.
The day looked quiet enough after that, apart from Micheál Martin unveiling his new front bench, some of whom are not even members of the Dail although he clearly hopes they will be in a few weeks. It was more of a photo-opportunity than a serious political exercise and you wondered how many of those on the plinth would be back in Leinster House in the middle of March. Mind you, Martin is proving a formidable operator even after a few days but, as the Dubs say, “Will it keep fine for him?”
There was nothing out of the Cowen camp to indicate if he was stepping-down or not. A reliable source opined: “If he’s going, he will announce it today; if he’s staying, he will leave it till tomorrow. My instinct is he’s going.”
You can’t leave anything to chance in Irish politics these days so sometime in the mid-to-late afternoon I was asked to go to Tullamore where a Fianna Fail cumann meeting was set for six o’clock. Cowen just might use the occasion to make his announcement.
As so often, the M4 at rush-hour was a minor heartache. Half-way there, a phone-call to a local party activist elicited the information that the Taoiseach might be giving an interview to a local radio station, Midlands 103, probably indicating he was stepping-down. A statement would follow at 7.30pm.
A colleague in the office looked up the station’s website to find its geographical location: the Axis Business Park outside Tullamore. Finding it was a minor conundrum: do you have any idea how many roundabouts there are in Tullamore?
Eventually the station’s headquarters loomed through the evening darkness. The staff were very friendly and welcoming. Tea for the Irish Times reporter and photographer as well as other media representatives as we awaited the great man’s arrival.
Displaying a niftiness not seen since his days playing football in New York’s Gaelic Park, the Taoiseach zipped past us into the studio. He was clearly determined to give the scoop to the local station.
Would we get -him on the way out? He would hardly use the fire-escape, now would he? These are the joys of on-the-hoof reporting.
We needn’t have worried. When the radio interview with Gearoid Keegan was over, the Taoiseach graciously gave of his time to explain what for him was a “momentous” decision.
Inevitably he looked somewhat deflated, but he had discussed it with his family and arrived at a settled view on the issue. It could certainly be argued that he has reached the end of the road politically – although he is still only 51.
Napoleon said he wanted “lucky generals”. I would love to know more of the background to that remark. In any case, Cowen was not in that category. He might say, after Hamlet: “The time is out of joint – O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!”
He says he hasn’t had time to make plans for the future. Will he be content with the life of a midlands solicitor? How ya gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Pareee? He’s a political animal and I have a feeling that, when the election is over and, admittedly, looking down the road a fair bit, in a few years we may yet see the Second Coming of Brian Cowen.