Cowen finds his inner Obama


Not a State of the Nation speech once again; big Haughey clan turnout; mystery of the Swedish model; and pretender to Bard of Erin crown

SENSATIONAL development! Leader delivers inspirational speech! Did the real Brian Cowen finally stand up on Thursday night? By all accounts, the Taoiseach’s speech in Dublin’s Four Seasons Hotel was a tour de force. When he finished, the businessmen and women of the Dublin Chamber of Commerce rose to their feet and applauded like their lives depended on it.

Oh, the blessed relief.

But Cowen’s handlers have been at pains to point out that this was not a state of the nation address. Memories of Charlie Haughey in 1980, and all that.

In fact, there was no advance notice that he was speaking at the function and journalists, who were told he had no public engagements that night, only found out about the event through the hosts. All very odd.

Yesterday morning, his “address” was e-mailed by the Government Information Service to media outlets. It was a boring, by the numbers, speech bearing no relation to what was actually said on the night. This must have been the script Brian abandoned.

It was turgid stuff.

As we said here last week, moves have been afoot to improve the Taoiseach’s flagging public image and to resurrect the spirited and charismatic Cowen of old, the one so beloved of the Fianna Fáil faithful.

There is a definite shift under way in his approach. The new offensive continues this morning, when the Taoiseach will drop into RTÉ for a nice big chat on the radio with Marian Finucane.

But back to Thursday. The choice of the Four Seasons Hotel for his This is Not a State of the Nation Address wasn’t too clever. It was the watering hole of choice for the Celtic Tiger’s most conspicuous spenders and the place where Bertie Ahern made his famous “loo-lah” speech to property developers last year.

Opting to make his latest non-state of the nation speech to a paying audience of business movers and shakers will not have gone down well either with the hard-pressed working man.

This was the Taoiseach’s third Not a State of the Nation speech in as many days. It was so off the cuff as to be suspicious, but none the worse for that. Plaudits flowed afterwards for a change, and Biffo was able to enjoy the rare luxury of overwhelmingly positive coverage for the first day in a very long time. Third time lucky for the Taoiseach. What – or who – made the difference? For all we know, Brian Cowen stands in front of the mirror every morning and rehearses the same sort of rousing speech he delivered the other night. But then he goes out to work and bores the nation rigid by reading dull speeches at them.

On Thursday, he abandoned the script. “I want to look everyone in the eye and say a few things . . .” The clatter of cups and saucers stopped. He spoke with power and passion, baldly setting out the harsh facts of our economic problems. He spoke of leadership, partnership and the need for everyone to work together. We may be badly off now, but it’s nothing compared to what previous generations had to endure.

His fighting spirit and sense of belief in community harked back to that sunny day when he returned to his native county as Taoiseach, and he held the welcoming crowds spellbound with stirring words. (Mercifully, he resisted the urge to burst into song.) He finished like a showband singer at the end of a barnstorming performance, muttering a throwaway “thanksverymuch” into the microphone as his audience jumped to their feet and applauded.

The question on everyone’s lips yesterday was whether Brian Cowen simply cut loose, ignored the handlers and their scripts, and did what he does best, or whether this was a carefully planned rehearsal for another, similar, pitch to a far wider audience.

Some detected the guiding hand of PJ Mara in the emergence of the new Can Do Cowen – a suggestion that causes annoyance among the current officer corps. As for PJ, while the Taoiseach was getting in touch with his inner-Obama in The Four Seasons, he was snowed in at a London airport with businessman Denis 0’Brien and his private jet.

Orgasmic!, sorry organic

One mustn’t get carried away with the new Can Do Cowen. There have been too many false dawns for that. The Taoiseach blows hot and cold in the Dáil — dull and grumpy most days, occasionally lively and engaged.

According to guests who attended the Chamber of Commerce dinner, Cowen appeared both surprised and gratified by the reaction to his speech. Maybe he had forgotten how good he can be.

His own troops were very impressed by the boss’s display. “It was leadership from the head and the heart,” thrilled Minister for Education Batt O’Keefe, swooning at the return of the Cowen who used to send ’em home sweatin’ from ardfheiseanna in the good old days. “It was orgasmic!” marvelled Batt, delighted that his pal Biffo had abandoned the script and raised the rafters. What? Say that again? Sorry, our mistake.

“It was organic,” said Batt, who has been spending far too much time in the company of Greens.

Enda Kenny was less impressed. “It wasn’t The Gettysburg Address,” sniffed the Fine Gael leader tartly, cutting himself another slice of lemon.

Haughey’s post-it notes

The Haughey clan were out in force for the ceremony this week to mark the presentation of a huge consignment of private papers accumulated by the late CJH to Dublin City University. Widow Máirín; Fr Eoghan, Charlie’s younger brother, and his sister Maureen were there, along with the four Haughey children, Eimear, Conor, Ciarán and Seán, who is now of course a Minister of State. In his speech, Seán signalled a drive to rescue CJ’s reputation from the detractors whose critiques of his father were based on what Seán described as, “selected aspects of his personal finances”.

Although the papers will not officially be available for viewing until 2022, which is 30 years after CJ’s retirement from politics, the Minister of State indicated that a fair proportion consisted of supportive letters to his father from members of the public. A correspondent from the North wrote in 1987, for example: “we feel safe when you are in charge and know that you will not stand idly by”.

There are conflicting estimates as to the quantity of material, some say 250 boxes, others 350. CJ is described by one source as a “hoarder” who kept everything that came in and the collection even includes “Post-It” notes.

Special agent David Norris

At a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs Committee, Fine Gael’s Billy Timmons’s proposed that the committee write to Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh asking him to withdraw remarks he made to the Israeli ambassador and Deputy Alan Shatter at a previous meeting. Senator David Norris said that while he hadn’t been at the meeting in question, he wanted to make some comments about the situation in Gaza.

The chairman, Michael Woods, pointed out that there had already been a five-hour debate on the matter.

Alan Shatter: Like other members, Senator Norris had the opportunity to attend that meeting. He chose, however, to remain on holiday in Cyprus, from where he continued to send letters to The Irish Times.

David Norris: That is the classic kind of schoolboy remark I would expect from the deputy.

Alan Shatter: The Senator received the same notice as everyone else.

Whereupon the chairman made this intriguing comment: “The senator often brings back information from his holidays that proves of assistance to the committee.”

What? What does David often bring back from his holidays that is of such assistance? Does he take lovely snaps? Advice on the best beaches? Restaurant recommendations? We rang him. “I’m right beside the Middle East, and from time to time I go to Isreal, Gaza and the West Bank. I often bring information back to the Seanad. I organised an Oireachtas delegation to visit two projects outside Hebron, for example, and raised €55,000 from a Joycean evening in Dublin to provide clean water ...”

‘Revolt’ among Oireachtas staff

On Thursday, in the lift next to the ministerial corridor in Government Buildings, somebody had taped a newspaper headline over the emergency notice beside the buttons. “Public Service Fury Over Government Cuts” it screamed.

It was noted by one disgruntled public servant that there was just one 09 registered car among the vehicles parked outside Government Buildings by the social partners during their deliberations inside. “It belonged to a trade union leader!” he snorted in disgust.

Meanwhile, on a lighter note, some deputies have been wondering about “The Swedish Model.”

Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan seems particularly obsessed with her.

He keeps telling the Dáil about “The Swedish Model.” Mentions her at every opportunity.

Brian Cowen is nearly as bad.

Who is she? Didn’t Tiger Woods marry a Swedish model? I think we should be told.

The two Brians should keep their minds on their work.

Contender for Heaney mantle

Seamus Heaney is your only man when it comes to turning out the big poems for the big occasion. Need an epic in a jiffy? All the smart world leaders reach for Seamus.

Until very recently, we would have automatically put the word “peerless” before his name.

But not any more, because

now there’s a new bard on the block.

An e-mail from Limerick county councillor John Gallahue, aka “Ireland’s Politician Poet,” alerts us to the fact that he has written a tribute to mark Barack Obama’s inauguration .

Here’s an extract from A Tribute to Barack Obama.

In uncivilised darkest days of long ago/Some of the coloured race enslaved you know/

Through strife and trouble these people carried on/ The whip and lynch mobs are now long gone./From herding goats on a far West African shore/A son’s success will reverberate forever more./

The 44th Presidency of the USA he sought;/ With great fervour that campaign he fought!/

Barack and Michelle in Washington a handsome pair/

Foretell what fate awaits them no one would dare./ Without the USA the West could come to an end./ May God Bless America and protect this President.

Now Seamus. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it.