An honorary doctorate for Brian Cowen: Irish Times letter-writers react

Letters to the Editor

The National University of Ireland conferred an honorary doctorate on the former taoiseach Brian Cowen at a ceremony in Dublin Castle.


Sir, – I realise it is prime silly season, but how sickening is your Front page picture (July 27th) of one-time taoiseach, Brian Cowen, replete with cap and gown receiving his honorary doctorate from National University of Ireland (NUI).

In my opinion such awards by NUI devalue the hard-earned degrees of all my fellow NUI graduates. – Yours, etc,


Knocklyon, Dublin 16.

Sir, – So the taoiseach who presided over the greatest financial meltdown in the history of the State gets an honorary doctorate from NUI. And he had the gall to accept it.

Truly nothing has been learned. Except by those who sadly lost their jobs, or family members through suicide/emigration and their homes when bailed-out banks sold their distressed loans to foreign vulture funds. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The photograph of Brian Cowen receiving his honorary doctorate should serve as a fitting reply to the rhetorical question posed by Mary Raftery, late of this parish, in her wonderful book Do they think we’re eejits? – Yours, etc,


Grange Cove,


Sir, – Brian Cowen, at his conferring, said, “Europe forced certain countries such as Ireland to implement inappropriate decisions such as protecting international bondholders”.

Certainly I agree with this analysis, but then why did he not reject the ECB’s terms?

In fact Brian Cowen was minister for finance, with Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach, when the Government brought in the 2007 amendment to the Asset Covered Securities Act 2001 which widened the scope of the “covered bond market” in Ireland.

These legislative changes, introduced at the peak of the boom, allowed banks to use commercial property loans as collateral for the bonds for the first time, enabling them to borrow more in the markets. Heavy borrowing in the global markets was one of the causes of the banking crisis and ultimately led to the government bank guarantee and the EU-IMF bailout. This legislation followed intensive lobbying by the Irish Bankers Federation, David Drumm, then chief executive of Anglo Irish Bank and the then chief executive of the Bank of Ireland, Brian Goggin.

Brian Cowen bears heavy responsibility for the collapse of the Irish financial system by failing to regulate the financial markets. He apparently accepts that “the problems should have been identified earlier and policy should have changed prior to the crisis” when in reality his policies contributed greatly to that crisis. – Yours, etc,


Greystones, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – The decision to make this award by NUI is undeserved and an insult to those of us who still live with the consequences of 14 years of maladministration by Brian Cowen and his colleagues in Fianna Fáil.

It is akin to congratulating the Republican administration of the US for the Roaring Twenties in the midst of the Great Depression.

His admonishment of the EU rings hollow and his attempt to claim credit for those of us left with the detritus of his government’s years in office and the subsequent partial recovery is contemptible.

Your political editor, Pat Leahy (Front page, July 27th), makes the point that Mr Cowen has seldom spoken of his time in government during the most intense period of the financial crisis. It would be really appreciated if he resumed his silence. – Yours, etc,



Martyn Turner: Friday July 28th, 2017
Martyn Turner: Friday July 28th, 2017

Sir, – The conferring of an honorary doctorate on former taoiseach and minister for finance Brian Cowen is to be regretted. As minister for finance he was instrumental in the government policy of unrestrained lending which led to the banks and the economy having to be rescued from insolvency. He was taoiseach when the IMF was called in to bail out the country.

Rewarding this kind of gross ineptitude seriously undermines the value of conferring an honorary doctorate on people who have made real and exceptional contributions to the life of the country. – Yours, etc,


Ennis, Co Clare.

Sir, – Credit where it is due, Brian Cowen’s government did commence a major adjustment programme that brought us out of our recent economic crisis.

However, I was surprised to hear he blames the EU for a lack of solidarity during the crisis. It was the Cowen government that unilaterally guaranteed our banks despite objections from the other countries. In fact, ministers described their glee at the upset in European capitals as the “clever” Irish gave their own banks an unfair advantage at a time of crisis. Solidarity was not considered by our then government.

Two years later we had to turn to those same countries for solidarity in the form of a bailout to pay for our rash guarantee. Remarkably, we received it. – Yours, etc,


Ballina, Co Mayo.

Sir, – I don’t know how the decision was reached to award Brian Cowen with an honorary doctorate and I appreciate that the awarding of the honour is something “. . . which has been bestowed on all but two holders of the taoiseach’s office” (Pat Leahy, Front page, July 27th).

However, given Mr Cowen’s track record in government and the economic legacy he, and his government, bestowed on the nation, the decision to award the degree, in my opinion, was the wrong one. I note that Mr Cowen is already a recipient of an honorary degree from the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (2005).

Surely in this instance it would have been wiser to “leave things alone” instead of awarding him this degree and, by association, rehabilitating the legacy of the Fianna Fáil party of the “Celtic Tiger” era?

As a graduate of NUI, who worked hard to obtain his qualifications and has pursued post-graduate qualifications while working, I find the NUI’s decision to award the degree incredible. To me, and many others, this award debases the honorary degree process, lowers the credibility of the NUI as a body and finally sends a clear message that NUI has adopted a culture of “rewarding bad behaviour”.

No doubt other honorary degree recipients, who actually contributed something to society, will see this latest decision as a devaluation of their awards and will question its real value.

I’ve spoken to my work colleagues and friends who are NUI graduates and they express the same level of incredulousness on this matter. The NUI’s standing in their eyes, and mine, is significantly diminished and this action will shine bright in their memories.

The decision, by the NUI body, has lowered its credibility and tarnished its reputation. – Yours, etc,



Co Westmeath.

Sir, – The report of the former taoiseach Brian Cowen being conferred with an honorary doctorate by the National University of Ireland made for sickening reading (Front page, July 27th).

Mr Cowen’s 10-page, 50-minute soliloquy may have been an attempt to exorcise some of his ghosts, but will hardly do the same for the many victims of his administration.

His oration will not rewrite the history books or eliminate the dark stain of political haplessness during his time in office. Yours, etc,


Bray, Co Wicklow.

Sir, – Rarely have I observed The Irish Times span the spectrum of the sublime to the ridiculous with such awe and shock as between Martyn Turner’s brilliant front page “Trump golf” cartoon on Wednesday, July 26th and Alan Betson’s front page photograph of Brian Cowen and his friend Bertie Ahern on Thursday, July 27th at the ceremony at which Mr Cowen was awarded an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland.

Further on in Thursday’s paper (“Dr Biffo gets it off his chest as he collects his doctorate”, Home News), Miriam Lord warns that those who might find it distressing should “look away now”. Less than prudent advice methinks in the context of the occasion, after all the recipient of the doctorate “majored” in looking away when he was taoiseach. – Yours, etc,



Sir, – The dictionary definition of “university” is “an institution of learning of the highest level”. My question is: if the former taoiseach can receive an honorary doctorate, have we learned anything at all? – Yours, etc,



Co Sligo.