Cowen apologises over use of expletive in Dáil
A spokesman for Brian Cowen has denied the Taoiseach was referring to Fine Gael when he used an expletive in an aside to Tánaiste Mary Coughlan following angry scenes in the Dáil this morning.
Mr Cowen clashed with Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny over the health service during Leaders' Questions and later with Labour's Eamon Gilmore, who criticised the Government over rising prices for consumers.
As the chamber rose. the Taoiseach was picked up by the Dáil microphones swearing in a comment to Ms Coughlan. “Bring in those people and get a handle on it,” Mr Cowen can be heard saying. “You know all those fuckers”.
The comments did not appear on the Dáil record.
Fine Gael later claimed the Taoiseach had "lost it" and the language showed his intolerance when under pressure.
"The Taoiseach’s aggressive and bullying behaviour in the Dáil marked a return to old-style Fianna Fáil arrogance and a refusal to be held to account," Fine Gael TD Dan Neville said. “His intolerance for being asked difficult questions was captured by his audible aside to his Tánaiste in which he described his Fine Gael opponents as ‘fuckers’”.
“The Taoiseach lost it in the Dáil but if he thinks that this type of bluff, bluster and abuse will stop questions being asked, he is wrong.”
However, a Government spokesman insisted Mr Cowen was not referring to Fine Gael.
“The Taoiseach did not refer to any member of the House,” said the spokesman in a statement. “It should be clear that the Taoiseach’s remarks were not read into the Dáil record. This was a casual exchange between working colleagues which was inadvertently and partially picked up by the Dáil microphones. In this context, the Taoiseach regrets any offence caused by the word complained of.”
Mr Cowen' spokesman said Mr Neville’s statement was “totally inaccurate and deliberately mischievous” and claimed it was an attempt to gain cheap political headlines. He said Mr Neville's assumption that a reference was being made to his party was simply untrue.
During heated scenes earlier in the chamber, Mr Kenny accused the Government of being unable to answer basic questions on the use of funding for palliative care programmes and mental health services. He also claimed that millions of euro allocated for such services were "disappearing into HSE black holes".
The Fine Gael leader was backed by the party's health spokesman Dr James Reilly, who heckled loudly in the background as the Taoiseach attempted to respond to Mr Kenny's questions.
As the Ceann Comhairle John O’Donoghue tried to restore order, the Taoiseach threatened that he could arrange it so that Mr Reilly would also be shouted down any time he spoke in the Dáil.
"Just to bring to Deputy Reilly's attention, I can organise it so that every time your man completes a sentence that I have people roaring and shouting across here if he wants . . . I can also make sure that you won't be heard in this House," said Mr Cowen.
"I will not be shouted down . . . as an orchestrated tactic which you've been engaging in for months . . . I'm just pointing out that that won't work with me alright? If Leaders' Questions is about you organising a shouting match then you won't get answers," he added.
Mr Cowen said suggestions that the Government was making cutbacks in palliative care services staff was incorrect and claimed that there were an additional 3,500 frontline employees this year compared to 2007.
"The whole purpose of the health care reforms is to try and take away resources from the acute hospital sector and spend more in the community sector. The supports for palliative care in the home have increased, and that is a fact," said the Taoiseach.
After Mr O'Donoghue restored order, Mr Gilmore attacked the Government over consumer prices. He claimed oil companies were operating a price cartel as consumers switched from petrol over environmental concerns. "It appears the oil companies are engaged in some kind of cartel activity in order to hike up the price of diesel and rip off motorists and hauliers. The latter will have consequences down the line for jobs and businesses.”
“These price increases are affecting people every day,” he said. “The National Consumer Agency doesn’t seem to be doing anything.”
Mr Cowen said Ms Coughlan would be discussing the issue with the National Consumer Agency chief executive officer this week. “The question of profiteering in respect of imports as a result of the difference in the currency exchange rate is a matter for the National Consumer Agency, the Competition Authority and the Department of Trade”.
Mr Cowen made his comment to Ms Coughlan as the Dáil rose following this exchange.