Softly-spoken, polite, even shy betimes, Cowen goes forth to drum up support


Faced with difficult poll ratings on Lisbon, Cowen's most used word yesterday meeting the public was "help"

IN GALWAY yesterday, Taoiseach Brian Cowen stumbled as he sought to go the wrong way on an escalator in the Eyre Square shopping centre.

Rescuing himself just in time, and clearly relieved to avoid an image that would have lived long after him, Cowen joked with camera crews and photographers: "I was looking at you lot!"

Faced with difficult opinion poll ratings concerning the Lisbon Treaty, Cowen's most used word yesterday meeting the public from Athlone to Connemara was "help".

Softly-spoken and polite, even shy betimes, the Taoiseach, who visited Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Galway along the way, earnestly sought support.

"Will you help us with the referendum on Thursday?" he asked one lady in Athlone's Golden Island Shopping Centre, "It's important that you do." It was to be the theme of the day.

Newly in the job, the Taoiseach was, in the main, greeted warmly, with people leaving shops to shake his hand, though a few shied away.

Criticised last week for not appreciating the efforts of the main Opposition parties, he embraced inclusivity yesterday with a vengeance: "All the main parties are for it," he intoned repeatedly.

Asked to vote Yes, one middle-aged man, enjoying a mid-morning coffee, was unenthusiastic. "There's an awful lot wrong at the moment," he told the Taoiseach.

Clasping him by the shoulder, Cowen replied: "This is the important one at the moment. We'll get on to the other ones on the 13th." Convinced of the treaty's importance, he hid his irritation with one young man outside a store, who casually, somewhat sarcastically, told him: "I don't believe in it."

Eyebrow slightly arched, Cowen replied: "Have you looked at it? Have you looked at who is supporting the No vote? Sinn Féin, and others.

"Are you with the Shinners?" he asked, clearly convinced that he knew the answer before he asked it. "Well, I hope that there'll be a job here at the end of it."

Entering Athlone, he was greeted by local TD Mary O'Rourke, though her colleague and rival, the usually omniscient Senator Donie Cassidy, was not to be found.

Never fear, however. Cassidy turned up at the offices of local accountants Russell, Brennan, Keane, who are celebrating their 50th anniversary.

The senator expressed disbelief about yesterday's Irish Times/TNS mrbi opinion poll. "Where did you get that one?" he questioned The Irish Times. "There's no sign of it here. I don't believe it, I don't believe it."

Travelling on to Ballinasloe, Loughrea and Gort before reaching Galway, Cowen everywhere was approached by fellow Offaly countymen and women.

"We're proud of you." "Don't worry, we'll support you." "Well done, Brian," they said, before declaring their parish and townland and connection to him and his family.

By Ballinasloe, local TD Noel Treacy had joined the caravan. "We need the yesses, Mary," Treacy told one woman. "They're awful important."

Peering into the In-Trim hair salon, Cowen joked: "I'm afraid to go in here in case I get a hair cut," before he entered anyway. The silver-haired Treacy worked the room and departing, quipped: "I'll be back for the highlights."