Slugger Cowen in no mood for early exit


DÁIL SKETCH:TAOISEACH BRIAN Cowen’s future employment prospects in these bleak economics times were raised in the Dáil yesterday, writes MICHAEL O'REGAN

This followed an earlier radio interview in which Fianna Fáil backbencher Seán Power had predicted Cowen’s demise as party leader after next month’s budget.

Labour leader Eamon Gilmore was the bearer of the uncomfortable news for the Taoiseach. Power, said Gilmore, had based what he said on what he had been told privately by many Ministers.

Ceann Comhairle Séamus Kirk ruled the Labour leader out of order, but Gilmore persisted.

Cowen, who was seated next to his chief political lieutenant, Tánaiste Mary Coughlan, remained silent. Coughlan smiled and shook her head at Gilmore’s suggestion.

A clearly annoyed Taoiseach then rose to his feet, leaving nobody in any doubt about his views on the longevity of his leadership. “I stand as Taoiseach, and I do not divest any authority in holding that office, or in regard to any internal party matter.”

The pugnacious Cowen had returned with a vengeance.

“I have given no such indication to anybody, including Deputy Power,” he snapped.

“Ouch !” said Fine Gael’s Bernard Durkan.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny warned against Ministers “stuffing State boards and other positions” between now and the general election. He noted that the “two boys”, Green Party Ministers John Gormley and Eamon Ryan, were absent from the chamber.

“I am not sure whether they are still playing their full part as members of the Cabinet in view of the treachery they felt was inflicted upon them,” he said.

Ryan had earlier attended Opposition Leaders’ Questions, sitting some seats away from his Fianna Fáil colleagues and providing a metaphor for the gulf that now exists between the Coalition parties.

Cowen grimaced, sipped a glass of water, and accused Kenny of questioning the Government’s mandate. It had the same mandate as any other government, he said.

Kenny insisted he had made no reference to the Government’s mandate, adding that Cowen was now a caretaker Taoiseach.

“That is not correct and the deputy’s knowledge of the Constitution appears to be very sketchy,” snapped Cowen.

Sinn Féin’s Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin launched a party political broadcast as he wished colleague Pearse Doherty good luck in today’s Donegal South West byelection.

“That is not relevant to the Order of Business,” said Kirk but Ó Caoláin was on a roll, demanding a set period in which Dáil vacancies would be filled. An exasperated Cowen remarked that the Government was awaiting clarification from the Supreme Court on the issue.

Party political broadcast over, Ó Caoláin withdrew from the fray.

Cowen excused himself from the chamber to prepare for the announcement later of the four-year economic plan, his demeanour and language suggesting no intention of a pre-election exit.

The one-time political bruiser should not be underestimated during that period which the Opposition now gleefully refers to as the Government’s “dying days”.