Cowne era ends with another own goal

AND so the Brian Cowen era draws to a close. Mr Cowen's exit from the Fianna Fail leadership followed a convincing victory in the confidence motion and then a monumental own goal when he decided, in the run run-up to a general election, that he could fill a plethora of ministerial vacancies.

AND so the Brian Cowen era draws to a close. Mr Cowen's exit from the Fianna Fail leadership followed a convincing victory in the confidence motion and then a monumental own goal when he decided, in the run run-up to a general election, that he could fill a plethora of ministerial vacancies.

The drip, drip of resignations, his failure to ensure the Greens were on board, compounded a political move that oozed stroke politics. And that was not political correctness on the part of those who criticised it, as he alleged in the Dail.

It was a political reality. After all, Mr Cowen, when presented with the opportunity in the past, like his predecessor, Bertie Ahern, had shown little inclination to change his ministerial line-up, despite several Ministers squatting in Departments for years.

Given that he had failed in the past to reshuffle his lethargic and ineffective Cabinet, what possible credibility did he think he would have in engaging in a major ministerial shake-up within a short time to an election?

Had he reshuffled his Cabinet, following his election as Taoiseach, he might have injected it with the kind of energy it so blatantly lacked for such a long time.

Incredibly, he could not see that last week's daft and cynical proposal would go down like a lead balloon with the public.

Was Mr Cowen so hideously out of touch with reality that he felt promotions would enhance the electoral prospects of some of his junior ministers and backbenchers ?

Was he not aware that some of them did not want promotion, knowing that the sight of a politician arriving to canvass in a State car would be a turn-off for voters in the forthcoming election?

Anyway, it was all too late. The game was up. Having won the confidence motion, he should have replaced Micheal Martin, who had resigned, in Foreign Affairs, promote a backbencher to junior level, and concentrate on the election.

Perhaps Mr Cowen thought that the Government could stagger on, that the Greens might be prepared to push out the March deadline. If he did, it was an astonishing miscalculation.

Anybody who saw the RTE interview with Green Party leader John Gormley knew of his reservations about a widespread reshuffle.

The Greens would be part of the stunt by voting for the ministerial nominations in the Dail. Whatever their chance of survival would have disappeared in a welter of criticism and ridicule from the media and the public.

The Greens, rightly, extracted the price of a reassignment of ministerial portfolios, and the March 11th date for the election, as their price for staying in Government.

Yet again, a Fianna Fail leader had led his party into a cul de sac, ending up being humiliated by the junior partner in the Coalition. There were echoes of the times when the now defunct PDs brought the Charlie Haughey-led Fianna Fail to its knees.

They eventually saw off Mr Haughey, who was later exposed as a politician on the make, a kept and crooked man.

Mr Cowen is a man of integrity and probity. His personal honour remains intact.

His final political undoing was his hapless disregard for public opinion at a time when the country was engulfed in an economic mess.

Fianna Fail is in a terrible state. There is much comment on its past and speculation about its future.

Portlaoise-based "Sunday Independent'' journalist John Drennan, in his book, "Cute Hoors and Pious Protesters'', which will be launched next week, offers an explanation of what he considers to be a core problem within the party.

He writes: "Our urban intellectuals may have condemned de Valera's fostering of a cautious national identity centred on the GAA, the church, a farming economy, John F Kennedy, lovely girls, no dirty books, the Pope 'Ireland's Own', the parochial hall and the parish field.

"Ultimately the real problem was to be found in FF's relationship with the State. Like so many other scenarios, where the disinherited finally secure power, the long term status of the State as their enemy meant they felt they owed it nothing.'' Mr Drennan's thesis, contained in a stimulating and readable book, will, no doubt, be much discussed.

Objective observers will have concluded that, from time to time, the welfare of the State meant precious little indeed to the Soldiers of Destiny. Why, otherwise, would the State be in such a mess, with a disillusioned and embittered people waiting in the electoral long grass for the Soldiers of Destiny ?

. Irish people are now battling The Economic War, with all its attendant misery of unemployment, the horrible reality of enforced emigration, lives shattered by a tragedy not of their own making.

History is repeating itself with a horrible sense that, yet again, the State and its people have been miserably failed. The Irish wasteland is mainly the legacy of Fianna Fail-led governments since 1997.

Pointing to the positives of that long reign is nonsense. The money was there. And some of it was spent constructively. And we are to be thankful for that? Certainly not.

That was the entitlement of the people. The chronic waste and mismanagement represented the betrayal of the people. For this was a betrayal.

Most of our woes are home-grown as Professor Patrick Honohan, Governor of the Central Bank, has testified. The pathetic Lehman Brothers' defence is now a distant memory for the Soldiers of Destiny.

Mr Cowen is not to blame for it all. His predecessor, and all who served in Government from 1997 up to the time the economic sky fell in, must share that blame. But it is true that leadership was entrusted to Mr Cowen at a critical time. And he failed to deliver.

True, he was extraordinarily unlucky, facing economic challenges unprecedented in the State's history. He had hardly settled into the job when his luck ran out. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.

That challenge could have been the making of Mr Cowen and his colleagues. The Taoiseach certainly had the ability, but, clearly, he lacked the capacity to come to grips with it.

Perhaps the leadership was all too easily achieved. Prior to it, he had, by and large, a charmed political life. Albert Reynolds brought him into the Cabinet, bypassing the traditional route of the junior ministerial benches. He got out of the Department of Health, which he described as "Angola", just in time to escape a political downfall.

He was sent to the tranquil political waters of the Department of Foreign Affairs, where little can go wrong. And, then, he was allocated the Department of Finance at a time when the coffers were full. He failed to call time on the reliance on the largesse of the unsustainable property bubble.

And when he became Taoiseach, the first unanimous choice since Sean Lemass a half-century earlier, he appeared to freeze in the face of the challenges that were there.

Routine issues like Oireachtas reform, including the preservation of the now vulnerable Seanad, were disregarded. As in Mr Ahern's cases, there was no innovation, no sense of getting things done and moving on to the next challenge.

As the economic storm clouds gathered, Mr Cowen, like his predecessor, rigidly stuck with the old ways, adjourning the Dail for three months. It gave him time to fit in the infamous game of golf with Seanie Fitzpatrick.

Mr Cowen is a decent man. He, no doubt, meant well at all times. But he and others have presided over a broken economic landscape. The human cost is immense.

Would anybody else have done any better? Who knows? Will what follows in government be any better? The jury is out