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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: April 8, 2012 @ 5:21 pm

    Mr Cowen Goes to Washington

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Having kept it all bottled-up inside for his three years as taoiseach, now Brian Cowen has given his perspective on the economic and financial crisis and his own role therein. Herewith my commentary from our print edition. Cowen’ s own words can be got at  http://cges.georgetown.edu/files/Web%20Post%20Cowen_1.pdf 

    A recurring issue during Brian Cowen’s three years as taoiseach was whether or not he should give a “state of the nation” speech. The general consensus was that he ought to do so.

    There was a widespread view that he needed to explain the economic situation to the people in plain language. The argument went that, if he did so, he would enhance support for the tough decisions he was obliged to take.

    The news media were constantly on the look-out for Cowen’s version of the Gettysburg Address. There was an occasional moment when he dipped his toe in the oratorical water, cast aside the PR-speak and gave vent to his true feelings and the reality of the challengeIrelandwas facing. But he never really stepped up to the plate and gave us the full-on, “here I stand, I can do no other”, rationale for his actions.

    Well, what do you know? Now the former taoiseach has gone and delivered an 8,400-word analysis setting out in some detail the massive problems that confronted him as well as the rationale behind his responses to them, along with his thoughts on the crisis in the euro zone.

    He chose to do so last month at a location very far from home:GeorgetownUniversityinWashingtonDC. By sweet delicious irony, the speech was given at the university’s BMW Centre for German and European Studies which was founded in 1990 with a grant from the German government, supplemented later by funds from the eponymous automobile company based inMunich.

    Although there have been news reports on Cowen’s lecture, which is entitled “The euro: From Crisis to Resolution? Some Reflections fromIrelandon the Road Thus Far”, you really need to read the full text.

    If his many critics and few supporters do nothing else this weekend, they should seek it out. This is a different Brian Cowen from the one we met during his unhappy and ultimately doomed attempt to lead this State from 2008 to 2011.

    Cowen’s predecessor Bertie Ahern was famous for his malapropisms and one of the best ones was his observation that: “With hindsight, we all have 50-50 vision.” Cowen’sGeorgetownoration has more hindsight than you could shake a stick at.

    When Cowen became taoiseach in May 2008, there was a good deal of optimistic comment on his ability to explain things in clear, concise and, above all, blunt terms. The best boy in the Fianna Fáil class and its most forthright speaker had come to the fore.

    Sadly, this side of his personality was not greatly in evidence during his term of office. The unexpected crisis seemed to send him into shock, leaving him unable or unwilling to communicate the scale of the disaster and the necessary rescue measures to the electorate.

    Cowen makes a strong case in hisWashingtonlecture that the decisions he took were unavoidable and correct, even including the controversial bank guarantee. He makes the point that this had overwhelming political support at the time.

    Indeed, it is worth recalling that Fine Gael supported the move. So, too, did Sinn Féin, although they don’t like to be reminded of the fact, and changed tack in due course. Labour has made much of being the only party to oppose the guarantee although one cannot avoid the suspicion that it would have taken a different stance had there been any possibility that the government’s proposed legislation might be defeated.

    The lecture was given just a day after Cowen’s successor Enda Kenny presented the annual bowl of shamrock to President Obama in a different part of theUScapital. The former taoiseach is apologetic and even contrite about his own responsibility for what went wrong. But he also provides a fascinating perspective on international capitalism in crisis, as seen from the inside.

    The hurricane that swept through the world financial system is portrayed here in frightening detail. Cowen would never be seriously characterised as a socialist, but he makes a strong case for a more orderly and better-regulated economic order instead of the anarchic greed and avarice that brought us to our present sorry state.

    His lecture implicitly poses questions about the viability of the nation-state in the present era of high-tech transactions that take little notice of borders. It also places a huge question-mark over the future of “auction politics” whereby parties, including his own, have competed to ingratiate themselves with an electorate that has learnt to vote according to its pocket-book and local or sectional concerns rather than the broader national interest.

    The former taoiseach is clearly aware that he, personally, cannot be let off the hook although he makes a strong case for a change of political culture inIrelandand elsewhere.

    Governments and other elected representatives must have the courage to impress upon the citizenry that more substantial funds have to be put aside in the good times for a rainy day even if it means spending less on social improvements, however desirable they may be.

    The thrust of his remarks is that democracy itself is in crisis, not just the economy and the banking system. Having been part of the problem, Brian Cowen has been trying to become part of the solution.

    Although even the mention of his name still arouses the ire of many people, the lessons he has learnt so dearly deserve wide attention.

    Cowen’s remarks are dispassionate in tone and he has clearly been reading the academic literature on the crisis, even quoting the views of three Italian economists: we were all wondering what he was up to since he left politics. Now we know – he was compiling a belated state of the nation address.

    • barbera.o says:

      Read Brian Cowen’s analysis/perspective on the economic and financial crisis from top to bottom. Formidable is the word. Would love to see this man back at the helm. This camera shy intellectual is streets ahead of the photo-op “poseur” we now have as Taoiseach. I am glad, however, that Mr Cowen’s opponents, FG/Labour now in Government, are gaining some experience at real politics. My my, how that has softened their cough..

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      I feel sorry for the poor souls who had to listen to such a speech – that’s an hour of their life they’ll never get back, nor will they get a refund on their ticket.

      Pity he didn’t read as much before he bankrupted the country – he still hasn’t explained why he chose to do that in opposition to the advice he received or at whose behest.

      I don’tget where this ‘intellectual’ label comes from as there is zero evidence he was ever an intellectual. Garret FitzGerald, Declan Costello, Frank Cluskey were intellectuals but Brian Cowen? Please! He was a small town solicitor, hardly an intellectual stretch and then ‘inherited’ his seat and his mindset was set by the type of Fianna Fáil that was shaped by the ethos of Mr Haughey and his loyal hand Mr Lenihan so it stands to reason he was always going to be incapable of doing the right thing when it came to putting the country before the party. As it came to pass.

      This of course doesn’t absolve Fine Gael and Labour for what a dismal disappointment they have been and not just on the big issues that will take years to resolve but mostly on the little things. A full year in, after 15 years of telling us how they’d reform this and that, and there’s been absolutely no political reform, why is that?

      Is it that the second you get a seal of office you become part of the problem or were they always part of the problem just never in government long enough. But the depressing part of that there was no alternative to FG/L.

      Until the government gets its own house in order it is incapable of asking people to pay another charge or levy or fee and it’s not up to the job of getting its house in order because of the poor calibre of leadership at the top.

      It’s also not true that there was no other choice in the heat of battle for Mr Cowen because in Iceland they had been through what we were going through and on 6 March 2010, after their President vetoed the blanket bailout the Icelandic government wanted to impose, the people of Iceland voted 96% against such a bailout and look at Iceland now – we have suffered more austrity and financial pain than they have and they are far further down the road to recovery than we are.

      In 2012 Iceland has unemployment of 7.5% – a level we can’t even dream of.
      It will have 2.4% growth this year after 2.9% last year.
      Inflow of FDI this year is t obe $3billion for a population of 300,000
      But also it has forgiveness 13% of debt and all debt over 100% of home value and housing cost is 3% below what it was in Sept 08.

      And more importantly it’s Prime Minister at the time is now in front of a court.

      Mr Cowen can’t even claim the defence of hindsight, although he does, because he did have a choice and he made the wrong choice and only he can explain why he thought it was right to have a secret meeting with Seanie and his pals rather than get every cabinet minister out of their beds into Merrion St for a full and frank fully recorded debate before taking the worse decision made by any government in the history of the state.

    • JOD says:

      Tch. I don’t have enough time left in my life to wade through 8,500 words of 50:50 hindsight from a man who told me back in ’07 when I asked him when was he going to stop betraying Ireland to and dishonouring Her cause with cowardice inhumanity and rapine that there was ”no evidence of that”. I don’t care if the scales have fallen from his eyes since. Undoubtedly he and his political ilk have still got their thumbs firmly on the balance and are keeping it tipped in favour of those whom can afford to buy the ‘justice’ they hawk like cabbage in the markets.

      Moreover, he’s got an handshake like a dead fish. Never trust a man who doesn’t have a proper handshake say I.

    • JOD says:

      Do I seem unfair? ”700,000 now living in poverty” reads today’s headline. Perhaps I may ”seem” unfair. But I don’t think I’m being unfair. Mr Cowen at al are insulated by the gilded pensions they received as a reward for destroying this country state society etc. with the far-right neo-conservative libertarian ideology of our Elites, foreign and domestic, that sees fit to make Ireland – with Her 800 year history of having cowardice inhumanity and rapine done unto her by Imperiums of old – a strategic asset in perpetrating illegal aggressive wars of conquest.

      Those pensions and other vast emoluments are paid for by the rest of us whom are being squeezed now until our pips squeak so as to hold the Elites harmless from their own perfidy.

      I don’t think a few choice harsh and dismissive words from some insignificant internet warrior are too objectionable given such cosseted insulation from reality as you receive BIFFO.

      And buy yerself a tennis ball and start squeezing it mate it’d do yer image more good than an apparent wakening up to reality that’s come about 9 years too late.

    • JOD says:

      In the midst of WW2 dev that master at doublepeak equivocation and dealing with various deVils so incensed the US ambassador, David Grey, with his refusal to compromise Irish neutrality that the latter in rage pulled the tablecloth off the table upsetting the national silver. Ireland’s languishing in the economic doldrums throughout the latter half of the forties and all of the fifties is generally thought to be the punishment imposed by the US upon the recalcitrant little State for Her alleged ”refus(al) to accept the values of warring nations”, to quote Aiken’s formula in defence of Irish neutrality.

      I wonder was that the real reason for successive FF governments (and now FG and Labour also) ”light touch regulation” of Ireland’s ports since March 2003 (and for all I know well before) when it comes to ensuring that the prohibitions against public officials facilitating torture as enshrined in the Criminal Justice Act 2000 (UNCAT) inter alia are upheld (or rather, are not upheld, being as the agencies of law enforcement were directed to turn blind eyes to CIviliAn jets agains which strong evidence exists of their involvement in ”extraordinary rendition”, to use the euphemism for State policies of kidnap and torture. And was it the reason for Ireland, supposedly still ”militarily neutral”, being made so at odds with the requirements of Hague V, that prohibits the transiting of belligerent forces across the territory of neutral nations; the erections of wireless and other means of transmitting by belligerents (altho’ Hempel was allowed keep his I must recall) as per that rotund excrescence in Ballsbridge bristling with antennae and with a very interesting, armed Marine guarded sub-floor listening bank as it maintains; and the export of munitions and materiel (viz Apache weapons platforms etc) as regularly are flown thru’ Shannon?

      Nothing so hard as to make a man see that which his continued income depends on his not seeing as Upton Sinclair observed, and Messrs Cowen, Ahern (x2), O’Dea and all those other pillars of moral probity certainly saw ”no evidence of that” which the dogs in the streets could see was going on down on the PRostituted Concrete of Shannon War-n-Torture-Port. Doesn’t take a genius to extend that image to all manner of activity that was likewise nodded and winked at and allowed to continue via the ”light touch regulation” that Mr Cowen alludes to in his 8,500 page apologia.

    • JOD says:

      Much and all as I despise deV and his legacy of introverted conservative conscience-less theocratic pecculating compassion-free oath-breaking shoneenism, at least he had the balls to stand up to bullies.

      Unlike his heirs and gracelesses. As betokened by their limp-wristed pansy handshakes.

    • JOD says:

      I mean, at least back in the late forties and fifites we could control our own ports and spit in the world’s eye and even though we were being economically punished by the World’s Greatest Bully we weren’t mortgaged to 200 billion currency units’ worth of debt yea unto the hundreth generation. Of course none of that will matter a damn to Cowen and his ilk insulated as they are from the destruction they have wreaked through their pure-d cowardice thanks to the pensions and emoluments they receive from the people whose lives they’ve destroyed. OK I’ll shut the hell up now I’ve read his opus all 14 pages of it it hasn’t changed my opinion one jot nor tittle nor in fact could anything except he had the balls to put his hands up and say…”.we ignored all the evidence of Ireland’s being dishonoured to the 3 Deadlies the Proclamation enumerates because our incomes depended on our so ignoring it” no even that wouldn’t matter not now.

      All it proves to me is that they’ve learned nothing, and fully intend to keep on learning nothing.

    • Scarecrows of the Stipe says:

      “Having kept it all bottled-up ”

      Aye, fond of the bottle alright. Everyone seems to know the solution to everything before or after the fact but when they are in a position to do something about it , then its a whole different story

      Poli-tricks baby, its poli-tricks

    • JOD says:

      Another one and a half billion euros paid out to unsecured bondholders (AIB) today. Would Mr Cowen or anyone else care to explain that? Oh he does. No failed banks and no burned bondholders according to our EUropean masters he mentions that in his 14 pages. Like I said. There was a time we could control our own ports and spit in the eye of a world gone mad however much it cost us in subsequent economic warfare laid against us and of course the ever-forgotten kin whose flesh fattened the mackerel that swam between this neutral island and the continents that e’er bulk close as archetypal sin both East and West of us.

    • JOD says:

      That time is not now. Our ports, and every other reckonable dimension of our once-sovereign-and-indefeasible-destines as well, we no longer control. And that’s down to Mr Cowen and his friends. It was ’09 or ’10 in fact I met him. There was a lotta booze being taken back then dates and times might blur. Although in his defence I must add the whole night he sat at the bar he only had the one innocent bottle of Miller did Mr Cowen. Don’t know if he took that drink I’d told the barman to give him after I left. But he didn’t seem like a man with much of a drink problem then. But as I say we’re no longer a Nation worth the name and Erskine Childers would agree with me on that and yet we’re having economic warfare levied against us still and all and doubtless in time our children will fatten more scomber scombrus. Where did it all go so wrong BIFFO? I’ll tell you. Same as I’ve been telling you since March 2003. The date Ireland was fatally dishonoured to cowardice inhumanity and rapine down SNN Warport way. Everything else since then is both an inevitable, logical consequence, and karma.

    • JOD says:

      Ah I get your meaning now Scarecrow. Not saying he’s fond of the BOTTLE as in glug-glug so much as fond of BOTTLING it as in bug-bug (out of any situation requiring courage and principled resistance). Yeah that’d go with the pansy handshake an all.

    • arbera.o says:

      Wakey ! Wakey ! Deaglán.! Ajai the chopper’s back in town..!”

    • JOD says:

      Talk about the mountains labouring to bring forth a mouse.

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