Cowen interview a coup for TG4 but no new disclosures from former taoiseach
Former taoiseach Brian Cowen: says he did not expect to become taoiseach, that it was “sprung on him”, that he was a reluctant taoiseach
It is something of a coup for TG4 to land the first in-depth interview with Brian Cowen since he stepped down as Taoiseach in early 2011. The former Fianna Fáil leader’s interview with Máirtín Mac Donncha will be broadcast next week.
Máirtín Tom Sheáinín is a well known broadcaster on TG4 and Raidió na Gaeltachta, very much in the light entertainment mould. His popular programme Comhrá has been a staple of the TG4 schedule for many years. Its format is simple – a laid-back and often nostalgic interview in which the interviewee talks about their life, career and interests.
Cowen has likely received hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls from journalists since becoming a political recluse – all offering him unfettered opportunity of an apologia pro vita sua. He has rebuffed them all.
It is not surprising he has chosen TG4 for his first post- political outing. He is a Gaeilgeoir and might have favoured the relaxed style of Máirtín Tom Sheáinín over the more accusatory tones of a current affairs presenter.
There is not much new, really. His defence is the same as he used throughout the crisis, that the Government’s advice was the economy would have a “soft landing”. Indeed, the phrase was used by him so often that it became a tool for his opponents to mock him.
He says the bank guarantee was mainly done on liquidity grounds as billions of euros were flowing out of the State. Afterwards, he says, “other things happened that were not foreseeable”.
This is a roundabout admission there was no alternative plan to deal with a “worst-case scenario”, as he puts it. Unsurprisingly, he does not say sorry but does express regret for the consequences faced by ordinary families.
He does accept his responsibility – not individually, but collectively. It is not as blasé as Brian Lenihan’s “we all partied” but it is clear he does not believe he should shoulder all of the blame.
A slightly bigger surprise is his comment that he did not expect to become taoiseach. He suggests it was “sprung on him”, that he was a reluctant taoiseach. That’s a little astonishing as he was the “chosen one” as Bertie Ahern’s successor for years.
He accepts his image may not be “very good” but stresses the importance of “being himself”. He wanted to be authentic but instead of doing the kind of media that might have reflected that, he did all the artificial stuff he despised – like group doorstep interviews – reluctantly, half- heartedly and badly.
Some Government TDs lay great stock in the banking inquiry as a means of recovering lost ground. There is a notion that somehow it will force Cowen and his fellow ministers to admit new uncomfortable truths. The more mundane reality is that Cowen will concede no less and no more than he has in this TG4 interview.