Unexplained delay on official portrait of Brian Cowen

No go-ahead to date as Department of the Taoiseach runs shy of established practice

The Department of the Taoiseach has yet to give the go-ahead for an official portrait of former taoiseach Brian Cowen, almost five years after he left the position.

Portraits of former taoisigh for display in Leinster House are commissioned by the Office of Public Works (OPW) at the request of the department.

Mr Cowen served as taoiseach from May 2008 to March 2011 and was leader of Fianna Fáil until January 2011, when he resigned under political pressure after a cabinet reshuffle.

The department provided no explanation for the long delay in commissioning the portrait, which goes against the practice of recent taoisigh being displayed on the walls of Leinster House soon after they resign as TDs.


A spokeswoman for the department said: “In some cases, portraits have been commissioned while a taoiseach is in office, or shortly after he left office. In other cases, the portrait was commissioned a number of years later. In any event, the portrait is not displayed until after the former taoiseach ceases to be a member of Dáil Eireann.”

The portraits of 11 of the 12 former taoisigh are on display in Leinster House.

The portrait of former Fianna Fáil taoiseach Bertie Ahern was hung on the walls near the main stairs in the autumn of 2011. It was commissioned as far back as 2001, during Mr Ahern's second term as taoiseach, and was completed in 2003.

Former taoisigh

Some of Ireland's most prominent artists have painted portraits of former taoisigh, including Seán O'Sullivan (William T Cosgrave and John A Costello); Leo Whelan (Éamon de Valera); Maurice McGonigle (Seán Lemass); Edward Maguire (Liam Cosgrave); John F Kelly (Jack Lynch and Charles Haughey); Derek Hill (Garret FitzGerald); Carey Clarke (Albert Reynolds); and Edward Plunkett (John Bruton).

Once the Department of the Taoiseach sanctions a portrait, the OPW begins the process of selecting an artist and agreeing a fee. The process, including sittings, can take as long as 18 months.

With one exception, all recent portraits of taoisigh have been completed when they are still in office or within two years of them standing down. For example, when John Bruton, like Cowen a taoiseach who was in power for a short time, stepped down from the position in 1997, his portrait was then commissioned in 1998 and completed in 1999. The one exception was Jack Lynch, whose portrait was commissioned in 1984, five years after he stepped down as taoiseach. Howver, Mr Lynch remained a Dáil deputy until 1982.