Cowen says he had no plan B for the economy
Former Fianna Fáil leader says he was a reluctant taoiseach, defends bank guarantee and expresses regret at economic hardship
Former taoiseach Brian Cowen: subject of interview on TG4 to be broadcast next week. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien
Mr Cowen has said he accepted the job, after some of his colleagues encouraged him, because none of his colleagues sought it.
“I was not expecting it. What happened was that Bertie [Ahern] decided to step down and nobody else was seeking the position,” he said.
It was only after some of his closest colleagues in Fianna Fáil told him to take the job that he said: “Fair enough, I’ll go for it.”
In his first in-depth interview since stepping down as taoiseach and as a TD in February 2011, Mr Cowen defended the actions of his government in giving the bank guarantee; expressed regret about hardship the downturn has caused to families; and asserted that he has always been aware of his responsibilities.
He again maintained that the advice the coalition government received was that there would be an economic “soft landing”.
He did not believe at the time the economy was in danger of collapsing and has accepted there were no plans in place for such an eventuality.
“Well, the truth is that we didn’t believe it. We thought the economy would have a soft landing, that economic growth would continue and we could pay for it through the growth that was to come.”
In his interview in Irish with TG4’s Comhrá programme, to be broadcast next week, Mr Cowen also stood over the controversial bank guarantee of September 2008: “You see, what was happening at that time was that billions of euro were leaving the country. So we had to stop that and get that money back into the country if possible,” he said.
Taxpayers subsequently bailed out the banks to the tune of €64 billion due to the scale of the losses on property loans. Mr Cowen said that after the guarantee “other things started to happen, which we hadn’t foreseen”.
He said it was “very regrettable” that people were now carrying a huge burden as a consequence of the crisis.
“I would like to say, because it’s important to do so, and I’ve said this before, I have a serious duty to accept my responsibility for what happened and I’m doing that. A lot of people are in trouble and they’ve got mortgages to repay and so on,” he said.
Mr Cowen said every day of his public life his approach had been to ask: “What is best for the country here?”
He said: “I may not have been right all the time. Clearly, nobody could be right all of the time. But we did our best and we were aware at that time that it wouldn’t be easy to get re-elected after the next election.”
Fine Gael TD Alan Farrell said Mr Cowen’s comments laid bare the truth that the last government did nothing to prevent the economic collapse. Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty said the interview highlighted the arrogant mentality that marked that and other Fianna Fáil-led governments.