13 May 2008

Brian Cowen elected Taoiseach

Well, while I was in hospital for a few days the expected change at the head of the government took place.
I did manage to report the official resignation of Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach on the 6th, but unfortunately I was back in an HSE bed for another few days by the time Dáil Éireann elected the Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and Minister for Finance Brian Cowen (above) as our new Taoiseach (Prime Minister) in the afternoon of May 7th. So this entry is basically "old news" for most of you, but as it is a very significant event, I decided to mention it here, even though it happened already six days ago.

After being elected with an eight vote majority of in the Dáil, the new Taoiseach went to Aras an Uachtarán (the President's Residence) in Phoenix Park, to present himself to President Mary McAleese and receive from her his seal of office.

Breaking with tradition, Brian Cowen is the first incoming Taoiseach who brought his family along to this important moment. On local level new mayors and county councillors often bring their whole families to their inauguration, but it is a new development on national level. Previously the new Taoiseach always cut a rather lonely figure when he was "going to the Park".
It shows Brian Cowen not only as a family man, but also as a man of rural values. Under his leadership the style of Dublin politics will certainly change.
Unlike his jovial and easy-going predecessor and mentor Bertie Ahern, the new leader is a more serious man who does not suffer fools gladly. Even though he is known for a good sense of humour, he keeps that for more private moments and is a tough man in the corridors of power.

Having not won an election and taking over the ship of state in midstream, he will have to show to the
Dáil and to the whole country that he has the right qualities to lead the government and the country. Only time will tell.

Analysing Cowen's career so far, it is clear that he is a true green party animal, probably even a lot more so than his predecessor, who united Fianna Fáil after the quarrelsome years under the leadership of Haughey and Reynolds. There seem to be two basic camps when it comes to Brian Cowen: those who think he is a 'Biffo' (big ignorant f..... from Offaly), and those who see him - like Dick Roche - as "the biggest brain in
Fianna Fáil".

Well, for Dick Roche almost anyone must seem as intellectually superior, and personally I believe that the brightest mind in contemporary FF belongs to the often overlooked Dr. Martin Mansergh, now a TD for Tipperary and previously a diplomat, special adviser to Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and a Senator. But there is a lot of truth in the rumours of Brian Cowen's intellectual capacity. In his years as Minister for Foreign Affairs hard work and persistence won him a lot of respect from foreign politicians and officials, especially inside the EU. During a major conference in Dublin - at the time when Ireland last had the EU presidency - I remember a very senior European political figure referring to Brian Cowen as "the fellow who looks like cider, but is really champagne".

Cowen's first cabinet is almost the same as Bertie Ahern's last, which indicates his preference for the devil you know.
Promoting Mary Coughlan (right) - the youngest woman in cabinet - to be his Tánaiste did surprise quite a lot of people, myself included. But since she is not in charge of one of the three senior departments - Finance, Justice and Foreign Affairs - it is questionable if this really means that she would be in serious contention for Cowen's succession, whenever that will become relevant. It is more likely that it is a shrewd move to please feminists, a populist media culture and the "politically correct".

As Mary Coughlan comes from Co. Donegal, it is also strengthening rural Ireland's representation in the cabinet further.
To compensate for that, Cowen appointed Brian Lenihan (left) as the new Minister for Finance, less than a year after he joined the cabinet as Minister for Justice.
By moving Dermot Ahern from Foreign Affairs to Justice and replacing him with Micheál Martin, whose portfolio of Trade and Enterprise is now held by Mary Coughlan, Cowen has left the question of succession wide open, with at least four possible and acceptable candidates in waiting. However, as Cowen is only 48 and seems to be in good health, this could well be a very long wait.

There were some other changes to the cabinet, but I will analyse them in detail after the new junior ministers are announced later today. I will provide you with a complete review of the new Cowen administration. Until then I hope you are enjoying the sunshine and make the best of life in a country that had it so good for a dozen years and managed to squander most of that wealth. Now a period of difficult years lies ahead, and one can only hope that the new Taoiseach is as strong and determined as his physique suggests.

The Emerald Islander

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