Belfast Telegraph

Irish PM Brian Cowen must accept public’s blame for economic crisis

By David McKittrick

The verdict of the Irish public on who is primarily to blame for the economic mess has been clear for years: it is the ruling Fianna Fail party. And within that party, the chief culprit is Taoiseach Brian Cowen.

He and his predecessor Bertie Ahern are regarded as the men who blew the boom by allowing the economy to overheat. Mr Cowen has toiled to put things right since becoming Prime Minister in 2008, but in his 30 months in office he never looked like getting a grip on the gigantic problems.

In the polls and in the pubs the verdict is the same: he does not look prime ministerial and does not look confident or competent.

No whiff of personal corruption has attached to him, but apart from this and his keen intellect, he has few positives in his favour. His communication skills are woeful.

While he is regarded as quintessentially Fianna Fail, he has difficulties relating to much of the outside world. His performances in the Irish parliament are often described as surly and bad-tempered.

Like Gordon Brown, he is often viewed as part of the problem rather than part of the solution. He was finance minister from 2004 to 2008 before becoming Prime Minister. He was in the Irish economic engine-room during the latter years of a boom that he personally encouraged. A measure of restraint might have saved Ireland billions.

Instead, he and Fianna Fail tailored a system of tax breaks that benefited the party's traditional supporters – builders and developers. When the crash came, debt piled up, not just for the developers, but for a public that bought homes that have since plummeted in value.

The timing of the impending fall of his government is due to two connected factors. One is that he had to go, cap in hand, to ask for huge amounts of help. This was regarded as a humiliation. The second was that he ordered his ministers to deny that a bailout was being sought.The facts eventually emerged, leading his coalition partners to say that people felt "misled and betrayed". Mr Cowen had opted for an approach of concealment, his abysmal communication skills speeding his downfall.

Belfast Telegraph


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