GE 2011 marks the end of an era as the country’s 12th Taoiseach Brian Cowen TD won’t be seeking re-election. First elected to Dáil Eireann on May 17, 1984 following a by-election called after the death of his late father Ber, he has represented the constituency ever since. And in the ’07 election he polled a staggering 19,102 first preference votes, the highest tally achieved in the state.
Mr Cowen stepped down as Uachtarán and leader of Fianna Fáil on January 22 and on February 1, he declared his intention not to contest Friday’s general election. His younger brother Barry is on the Fianna Fáil ticket ensuring the Cowen name will be on a ballot paper for the 14th consecutive time since 1969 (13 general elections & ’84 by-election). On Monday evening An Taoiseach spoke candidly to ‘Express News Editor’ Alan Walsh about his career, family and the future.
“AT that stage I was just 24 years of age,” recalled An Taoiseach of the 1984 by election where he secured 26,022 votes to see off the challenge of Fine Gael’s Padraig Horan, Offaly’s 1981 All-Ireland winning captain.
Mr Cowen continued, “I had just set up my own business and I continued to work on that business until I became a Minister eight years later. You obviously have ambitions to progress in any career but at the end of the day that is in the hands of others. I mean leaders of parties decide who comprises their cabinet and who is given positions of responsibility.
“I often think that emphasising that takes away from the very important job that a TD has to do and that is to represent his constituents on the issues, to be able to advocate for policies that will bring benefit to the people you represent. And I’ve always worked within the Fianna Fáil party structure to achieve that when I was back bencher for eight years and subsequently when I became a Minister.
“And finally as Taoiseach I’ve been very much a team player, I’ve been a team player in our constituency organisation here. And I’ve always sought to work with everybody. I never sought to alienate people or to keep people out.”
Mr Cowen hasn’t given consideration to his future plans. “I haven’t really. We’ll look at all that in the weeks and months ahead. In the immediate aftermath of my decision to step back from the leadership, when the cabinet reshuffle was thwarted by the Greens, I had to accept that I’d have to come to a decision on whether I’d stand again. I feel that once you’ve been leader of the party and leader of the country, what role do you play thereafter on a representational level it becomes very limited and it is important the new leader and the new team are allowed move the party on from here and move the country on from here. I have no set plans as yet. Obviously that’s something I will apply my mind to in the immediate aftermath of stepping out.”
He has been assisting with the local canvass and is looking forward to spending more time with his family, wife Mary (nee Molloy) and daughters Sinead and Maedhbh.
“It has been a very hectic life I lived for many years at the frontline of politics, both in Government and opposition and I probably just need to take a bit of a break. When I became a Minister first (Minister for Labour in February 1992) my eldest daughter Sinead was two months old and she is now 19 starting university. That is a long period and family life is something I can look forward to. I’ve other interests and passions in life that I’ll pursue over the next few months. What lies in store, for the moment, it is not something I am applying my mind to until the election is over.”
On Tuesday, January 18, Mr Cowen won the confidence motion he placed in his own leadership of Fianna Fáil seeing off the challenge of Micheál Martin who later went on to become leader. He has been impressed with Mr Martin’s performance since taking the reins as 8th FF leader.
“I’ve never been in a leader’s debate in an election. I have been involved as Deputy Leader and as I say, politics is a team game it is about everybody putting their shoulder to the wheel. I’ve always loved debating and having a constructive argument with people and putting our case and defending our position where I feel it has been misrepresented and I think Micheál Martin is doing admirably well in this campaign and I think he is bringing a lot of substance and weight to a lot of the issues and he’s anxious to talk about the issues, he wants to play the ball rather than the man and I think that is an admirable trait in anybody because the challenges we face as a country are there before us.
“I would make the point that there is an adjustment of €30 billion to be made and the time that I’ve been there we’ve made an adjustment of €20 billion, we’re two thirds of the way through the necessary change and I just hope that an incoming Government will be pushing that rock up to the top of the hill rather than letting it slip back. That is the important thing for the country and for our people.
“When you are doing it, you are never popular to be doing that but when it done everyone will recognise that it was the way forward. We all want to see a future for our children and we all want to have a greater sense of security. We have come through a very major crisis and we’re still dealing with it. I think we can get out the far end if we keep focused and keep doing what is right.”
est crisis and that still is 400,000 more than when we came into office.
“Behind every statistic is the human concern and worry that comes with the difficult times we are in but we’ll come through it and I just want to say to people to maintain hope and maintain their optimism. Life goes on and we’ll adjust and we’ll come through it, hopefully a better country afterwards. Let’s just focus on the positives. It has always been my way of working.”
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