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Brian Cowen ( , born 10 January 1960) is the current Taoiseach of Irelandmarker. He took office on 7 May 2008, heading a coalition government led by his Fianna Fáil party that includes the Green Party and the Progressive Democrats, with the support of independent TDs.

He has been a Teachta Dála (TD) for the constituency of Laois–Offaly since 1984. He previously served as Minister for Labour (1992–1993), Minister for Energy (1993), Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications (1993–1994), Minister for Health and Children (1997–2000), Minister for Foreign Affairs (2000–2004) and Minister for Finance (2004–2008).
  He served as Tánaiste from 2007 to 2008. He became leader of Fianna Fáil on the resignation of Bertie Ahern. On 7 May 2008 following the resignation of Bertie Ahern as Taoiseach, Cowen was nominated in the Dáil and elected Taoiseach.


Early and private life

Brian Cowen was born in Claramarker, County Offalymarker on 10 January 1960. He grew up at the family home in Clara. He is the son of Bernard and May Cowen. His father, Bernard Cowen, was a former Fianna Fáil TD and Senator. The family owned a public house in Clara town, located adjacent to the family home. His father also worked as an auctioneer. From an early age, Brian Cowen frequently worked as a barman in his father's pub. He has two brothers – Christopher and Barry. His brother, Barry, is also involved in politics and is a Fianna Fáil Councillor on Offaly County Councilmarker. His other brother, Christopher, is a publican (who, Revenue discovered, had failed to pay taxes), runs the family Pub and is the oldest of the Cowen brothers. The old Cowen family home and Pub are soon to be demolished to make way for a new development.

Cowen was educated at Clara National School, Ard Scoil Naomh Chiaráin (St. Ciaran's High School), located at Clara, County Offaly, and the Cistercian College of Mount St. Joseph in Roscreamarker, County Tipperary. He was 12 years old when he entered Mount St Joseph College, as a boarder. After secondary school, he attended University College Dublinmarker where he studied law. He subsequently qualified as a solicitor from the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, Dublinmarker.

Cowen is married to Mary Molloy and they have two daughters.

He is a member of the Gaelic Athletic Association and continues to serve as president of Clara GAA club. He also lined out with the Offaly Gaelic football team in the early 1980s. Cowen likes to socialise with his constituents in some of the local pubs in his native Offaly. In May 2003 he took part in a charity CD project organised by 'The Brewery Tap' pub in Tullamoremarker. All proceeds from the CD went to charity and featured 28 songs, including Cowen singing the Phil Coulter song, "The Town I Loved So Well".

In May 2007, Cowen told Jason O'Toole of Hot Press that, as a student, "I would say there were a couple of occasions when marijuana was passed around – and, unlike President Clinton, I did inhale! There wasn’t a whole lot in it really".

Early political life

Cowen was elected to Dáil Éireann in the Laois–Offaly by-election of 1984, caused by the death of his father.
 At the time Cowen, at the age of 24, became the youngest member of the 24th Dáil. He was also elected to Offaly County Councilmarker in the same year, taking over the seat vacated by his late father. He served on that authority until 1992.


Cowen remained on the backbenches of Dáil Éireann for the next seven years. Following the 1989 general election when Fianna Fáil entered into a coalition government with the Progressive Democrats for the first time, Cowen was one of a number of TDs who were vehemently opposed to the move. Two years later in November 1991 the then Minister for Finance, Albert Reynolds, challenged Charles Haughey for the leadership of the party. Cowen firmly aligned himself behind Reynolds and quickly became associated with the party's so-called '"Country & Western" wing. (Reynolds's supporters earned this nickname due to the fact that the vast majority were rural deputies and that Reynolds had made a lot of money in the dance hall business in the 1960s.) Reynolds became leader on his second attempt, when Haughey was forced to retire as Taoiseach in 1992.

Reynolds appointed Cowen, then just turned 32, to his first cabinet position as Minister for Labour. In spite of being a member of the cabinet, Cowen's attitude to his coalition partners, the Progressive Democrats, was hostile. This was evident at the Fianna Fáil party's Ardfheis in March 1992. In the main warm-up to the leader's address, Cowen remarked, "What about the PDs? When in doubt, leave them out." He rowed with the PDs, being furious at their interference with Fianna Fail's view that, as majority partner, they should have wielded the power.

The 1992 general election produced a hung Dáil and resulted in negotiations getting underway between all the main parties. Cowen, along with Noel Dempsey and Bertie Ahern, negotiated on behalf of Fianna Fáil in an attempt to form a government with the Labour Party. A deal was reached between the two parties, and Cowen was again appointed Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications. In that role he implemented the controversial decision to relax the so-called stopover at Shannon Airportmarker, which allowed limited direct trans-Atlantic flights from Dublin Airportmarker. The decision proved divisive and saw one Fianna Fáil TD, Síle de Valera, resign from the party in protest.

In October 1994 it was revealed that Cowen had 1,000 shares in Arcon, a company to which he was in the process of awarding a mining licence. He quickly sold the shares and apologised in the Dáil for causing himself and his colleagues "some embarrassment".

Later in 1994 Albert Reynolds resigned as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil. Bertie Ahern became the new leader; however the party was now in opposition. Cowen was appointed to the front bench, first as spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and Forestry (1994) and later as spokesperson on Health (1997).

Cabinet career: 1997–present

Minister for Health & Children

When Fianna Fáil returned to power following the 1997 general election, Cowen was appointed to the newly expanded position of Minister for Health & Children. Cowen himself described his period there as like being in Angolamarker because landmines can go off without any warning. During his tenure he had to deal with problems of bed shortages and overcrowding in hospitals, as well as a prolonged nurses strike in 1999. It came as a relief to Cowen when he vacated the Ministry for Health & Children on being appointed Minister for Foreign Affairs in January 2000.

Minister for Foreign Affairs

Cowen's tenure as Foreign Minister saw extensive negotiations continue regarding the Northern Ireland peace process and other international activities, particularly when Ireland gained a place on the United Nations Security Council. In 2003 Cowen, as Minister for Foreign Affairs, was the victim of a bizarre personal attack by the leader of Northern Irelandmarker's Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley, a former outspoken critic of the Republic of Irelandmarker and its government. In front of a crowd of party supporters and in the presence of television cameras and radio reporters, Paisley launched into a diatribe about Cowen's personal appearance before also insulting his mother. In 2004 Cowen played a key role during Irelandmarker's Presidency of the European Council and the simultaneous expansion of the European Union.

Minister for Finance

Following the departure of Charlie McCreevy in September 2004 Cowen became Minister for Finance. On 1 December 2004 Cowen announced his first budget, a budget that was generally seen as a give-away budget in which spending was increased by 9%.

Cowen's second budget in 2005 was dominated by a new childcare package, and measures to take 'tax-free millionaires' back into the tax net from 2007 by restricting tax breaks. A readjustment of income-tax measures were designed to take 52,000 low earners out of the tax net and remove 90,000 middle earners from the higher tax band.

Cowen's third budget in 2007, in anticipation of the 2007 general election, was regarded as one of the biggest spending sprees in the history of the state. The €3.7 billion package included increases in pension and social welfare allowances, a marked green agenda, as well as a reduction in the top rate of income tax from 42% to 41%. Cowen has been criticised for being allegedly complacent during the economic turmoil in January 2008.

Leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach



During his ministerial career, Cowen was often touted in the media as the front-runner to succeed Bertie Ahern as leader of Fianna Fáil. Cowen's position was strengthened when he succeeded Mary O'Rourke as Deputy leader of the party in 2002. Subsequently he was appointed Minister for Finance, seen as an almost mandatory position for any aspiring Taoiseach.

Cowen was confirmed as the sole nominee for the position of Leader of Fianna Fáil on 5 April, having been nominated by Brian Lenihan and by Mary Coughlan on 4 April. He was elected as the seventh leader of Fianna Fáil on 9 April 2008, and assumed office on 6 May.

On 7 May 2008 Cowen was nominated by Dáil Éireann as Taoiseach. He was elected by 88 votes to 76, and was appointed by President Mary McAleese. He then formed the 28th Government of Ireland. His choices for Tánaiste and Minister for Finance were criticised as inappropriate by The Irish Times.

An article in The Irish Times on 14 November 2008, reporting the results of an opinion poll, noted that "satisfaction with the Government has dropped to a record low of 18 per cent, a drop of 28 points since the last Irish Times poll in June, while satisfaction with Taoiseach Brian Cowen has fallen to 26 per cent, a drop of 21 points." This was the lowest level recorded since Irish Times polling began more than a quarter of a century previously.

In December 2008, Cowen was ranked second last in a list of the best leaders in Europe in 2008, by a French business newspaper, La Tribune, who asked 12 senior European correspondents from nine countries to rate the 27 heads of government in the EU. As Miram Lord of The Irish Times, reporting on the result of their straw poll, noted, French President Nicolas Sarkozy placed first, while Brian Cowen was placed 26th out of 27.

Cowen has been accused by an Irish Independent columnist of making an incorrect "decisive" decision in relation to the Irish pork crisis of 2008, by agreeing with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland withdrawal of Irish pork from the market, for a five day period, due to dioxin contamination in a small percentage of the pig stock, ultimately costing the taxpayer some €180 million.

Cowen has been accused of a lack of leadership at a time of national crisis, and of seeking to rely on consensus-building instead of strong decision-making.

On 18 January 2009 an editorial in The Sunday Times was highly critical of Cowen, calling him a "dismal failure".

On 28 February 2009, a Millward Brown IMS poll opinion poll found that Cowen had only a 21% public satisfaction rating, while his finance minister, Brian Lenihan and Tánaiste Mary Coughlan had satisfaction ratings of 21% and 23% respectively.On 1 March 2009 in The Sunday Business Post, Red C opinion poll, Fianna Fáil's support was down five points to 23%.

On 3 September 2009 an Irish Times /TNS mrbi poll, opinion poll reported that, Cowen’s satisfaction rating with the electorate dropped six points to 15 per cent, with 77 per cent of voters saying they were dissatisfied with the way he is doing his job.

Cowen's first Budget as Taoiseach

Cowen's first budget as Taoiseach in October 2008 was controversial, reflected in an "unprecedented" drop in support for Cowen's party in opinion polls following its announcement. This response forced reversals of proposed changes in several areas, contributing to perceived weakness in his Government.

A further protest on education cuts saw a large protest group gather outside the Dáil. Subsequent to the Budget and the public reaction to it on the street, an opinion poll on 26 October 2008, showed Cowen's party, Fianna Fáil, plummeting to a historic low and opposition Fine Gael leading the main government party by seven percentage points./www.sbpost.ie/post/pages/p/story.aspx-qqqt=NEWS-qqqs=news-qqqid=37063-qqqx=1.aspCowen admitted, that his authority has been damaged by the unraveling of the Budget and is facing barely concealed disaffection from within his Cabinet. A senior political source said: "The Budget was an accident waiting to happen."

A further opinion poll, taken on 10 & 11 November 2008, found that satisfaction with Cowen's Government performance had collapsed, down to just 18 per cent, a massive fall of 28 percentage points, while support for the principal coalition party, Fianna Fáil, plummeted 15 percentage points to 27 per cent, while that of the alternative party of government, Fine Gael, jumped to 34 per cent, a gain of 11 percentage points.

Under the European Union stability and growth pact, EU states are required to keep their budget deficit to GDP ratio below a 3 per cent limit and maintain a debt/GDP ratio below 60 per cent. On 31 October 2008, the European Commissionmarker opened an excessive deficit procedure against the Government for allowing its' budget deficit exceed those limits. The budget deficit is expected to be 5.5 per cent in 2008 and 6.5 per cent in 2009.

In a second emergency budget in April 2009 a fiscal deficit, of 10.75 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) was addressed.

Public image

Cowen is often referred to in the Irish satirical and tabloid media as BIFFO, a pejorative nickname sometimes applied to people from the midlands county of Offalymarker. BIFFO is widely understood as an acronym for "Big Ignorant Fecker/Fucker/Fellow From Offaly". Cowen has said that 'BIFFO' stands for "Beautiful Intelligent Fellow From Offaly'.The Irish Independent has provided him with a further acronym GRUFFALO (Grumpy Rude Uncensored Fecker/Fucker/Fellow From Around Laois Offaly)

Cowen was accused of 'conduct unbecoming' in the Dáil, over comments that he made in the Dáil, when at the end of a heated exchange Cowen sat down, and turned to Tánaiste Mary Coughlan and Dáil microphones then picked up the Taoiseach using the word 'fuckers'.He subsequently apologised for this remark.

Cowen has been openly criticised by his parliamentary party colleagues including one, who in an interview said Cowen has suffered from "poor communications and consultation" and expressed concern about the emergence of a perceived "triumvirate" (comprising the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance) within the Cabinet.

In a novel criticism sometime artist and teacher Conor Casby placed unflattering nude portraits of Cowen in the National Gallery of Ireland and the gallery of the Royal Hibernian Academy. The portraits were referenced on a national television news bulletin and caused considerable debate in the media.

Treaty of Lisbon

The Irish electorate's decision to reject the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon on 12 June 2008 was viewed by some media and political observers as a protest against Cowen and his government. The Irish Independent called the failed referendum's aftermath the government's "biggest political crisis in decades." Columnist Brendan O'Connor called the outcome "a humiliating failure for Cowen and the people who put him there."The Taoiseach himself arguably dealt a damaging blow to his own side when, on 12 May 2008, he admitted in a radio interview that he had not read the Treaty of Lisbon in its entirety.

Quotations

  • "I was reared in a pub – as a young fellow, serving in the pub I learnt far more there about human nature than I learnt in any university or school. I think it gave me a great insight into people."
    Hot Press interview with Brian Cowen, 23 May 2007


  • In a wide-ranging interview with Hot Press, Brian Cowen admitted smoking cannabis, “there were a couple of occasions when it was passed around – and, unlike President Clinton, I did inhale!”


  • "I think it is fair to say that 2007 represents a turning point for the Irish economy".


  • "However, we must not lose sight of the fact that the fundamentals of the economy are still good."


    Assertion on outlook on presentation of December 2007 budget.


  • "Yeah, well, there's a mirror in the toilet if you want to go in there and talk to them."
    – Brian Cowen responding to Martin McGuinness stating "We'll have to consult the [IRA] army council on this" to certain proposals made during the peace talks concerning Northern Ireland.


  • "We need to get a handle on this, will you ring those fuckers."
    – Brian Cowen to Mary Coughlan in the Dáil on 21 May 2008.


  • Hopefully that will be seen as a response, a leadership responding to an issue and therefore one’s authority, while it’s not as high if you didn’t have the problem, it does mean that people say 'well he used his authority to come up with a solution in double-quick time that met with broader public acceptance'
    -Explaining why there were radical Government alterations to a budgetary position in October 2008, with the alterations forced by angry public reaction.


  • We have seen already how resistant public opinion is, firstly to comprehension of the new paradigm in which we have to operate; and secondly, to the rationale behind the decisions we have had to take.
    -Cowen's reaction to widespread public opposition to the October 2008 budget and the public's questioning of the rationale behind the cuts and why certain sections of the community were initially targeted.


  • That deterioration, if you like, has to be addressed in the context of the Government being prepared to look at further programmes to see what way we can ensure that going into next year, as challenging as it may be, to see in what way we can seek to help stabilise the finances further.
    -Cowen's unwillingness to clarify in the Dáil, the post budget deficit


  • I believe it is the best method to get the buy-in for the road we have to travel. I believe it is a problem-solving process about how we collectively come forward with a strategy to deal with the issue.
    -In a news report about his proposals for economic recovery,


  • As long as I am running this Government I will run the Government as I see fit...as I believe in, based on my philosophy.


  • I've come up through the ranks of this parliamentary party and let me tell you the principles that have guided me on that journey since my first election 25 years ago: Loyalty to the party, service to our country and a determination to always do my best for the people. They are principles that still guide me Cowen in his address to the Fianna Fail parliamentary party meeting in Athlone on 14 September 2009 [37105]


References

  1. 75% of voters want a change of government, poll shows
  2. Satisfaction with Taoiseach falls to 15%
  3. FF support plummets to 17% in shock poll
  4. http://www.rte.ie/news/2008/1025/poll.html Poll shows 10 point drop for Fianna Fáil
  5. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/taoiseach-talks-tough-then-does-third-uturn-1514643.html Taoiseach talks tough, then does third U-turn
  6. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/1030/1225320616209.html
  7. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/government-not-able-to-deal-with--downturn--poll-1510475.html Government not able to deal with downturn -- poll
  8. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/discontented-ministers-suppress-fury-1510534.html Discontented ministers suppress fury
  9. Collapse in support for Government
  10. Massive drop in support for Fianna Fáil
  11. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2008/1103/breaking37.htm Commission takes action against Ireland over deficit
  12. World reaction to Budget
  13. http://www.independent.ie/national-news/cowen-faces-new-backbench-revolt-1566345.html Cowen faces new backbench revolt
  14. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article5299488.ece Kitt attacks Cowen leadership
  15. Brian Cowen Nude
  16. Garda quiz man over Cowen pic
  17. Brian Cowen is exposed to ridicule by art gallery guerrilla
  18. Guerrilla artist hangs nude paintings of taoiseach Brian Cowen
  19. Gardai question artist under caution
  20. http://www.independent.ie/opinion/analysis/buck-stops-at-top-cowen-has-failed-his-first-big-test-1409571.html?startindex=10#comments Buck stops at top: Cowen has failed his first big test
  21. Cowen disaster: little authority and no leadership
  22. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2008/1023/breaking25.htm Government comes under further Budget pressure
  23. http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/1101/1225321623480.html
  24. Whatever you do, Brian, don't mention the deficit
  25. A quoted comment from the Taoiseach, in a news report about his proposals for economic recovery
  26. He's taken the blows and now Brian's doing it . .His Way


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