America's top diplomat in Ireland told colleagues that the nickname ‘Biffo’ applied “especially well” to former Taoiseach Brian Cowen, a leaked US embassy cable reveals.
In a candid profile of the ex-Fianna Fail leader, former US Ambassador Thomas Foley described Mr Cowen as “burly and brusque” and said that he had “a reputation of not being much concerned with his public image”.
The ambassador also described Mr Cowen’s fondness for frequenting pubs and singing, saying he would most likely be more approachable than his predecessor Bertie Ahern.
Ambassador Foley made the remarks – in a cable marked “confidential” – just days before Mr Cowen succeeded Mr Ahern as Taoiseach in May 2008.
The comments were circulated to the office of then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and to every American embassy within the EU.
“Cowen is very popular among the rank and file Fianna Fail members, who affectionately refer to him (as he also refers to himself) as ‘Biffo’, which commonly stands for ‘Big, Ignorant F***** from Offaly’,” Ambassador Foley wrote.
The tone of the cable was largely positive, something that would change in later diplomatic dispatches as Mr Cowen lurched from crisis to crisis.
However, at the time of his elevation, US officials were very impressed with Mr Cowen’s career, particularly his work on the Northern Ireland peace process while he was Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Ambassador Foley told Washington that having Mr Cowen as Taoiseach would be beneficial to US interests as he was “more affable and approachable” than Mr Ahern, who was regarded as “a sociable loner”.
Other leaked cables reveal US diplomats were talking about Mr Cowen as a potential Taoiseach as far back as 2004.
However, the embassy’s opinion of his capabilities grew remarkably less favourable after he came to power.
In June 2008, Mr Cowen told Ambassador Foley that media reports on the faltering economy were “exaggerated” and he was “not too worried” about it.