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FLASHBACK: Brian Cowen became Taoiseach five years ago this week

Cowen succeeded Bertie Ahern at the helm of government on May 7, 2008. Here he is, leading a hometown singsong.

(YouTube: Eoin Smith)

IF THEY SAY that a week is a long time in politics, half a decade must mark a totally new era.

Five years ago this week, a popular finance minister was promoted from Tánaiste to Taoiseach – and was met by a crowd of thousands when he returned to his hometown for a valedictory sing-song.

Brian Cowen’s appointment as leader of Fianna Fáil, succeeding Bertie Ahern, had been expected for some time – a few months previously, hinting that he may not remain in power for much longer, Ahern had referred to his deputy leader as his successor-in-waiting.

When Ahern announced his retirement on April 2, 2008, Cowen was seen as the natural heir – and was the only nominee for the FF leadership, meaning automatic succession on May 6. The following day, the Dáil confirmed his appointment as Taoiseach.

In his hometown of Clara, Co Offaly, the public were buoyant – and with the country appearing to be in good economic shape, Cowen was welcomed in a valedictory return to Offaly where he sang a song in memory of his late father, Bernard, whose Dáil seat he had inherited in a 1984 by-election.

The honeymoon didn’t last long. A month later, a referendum on ratifying the Lisbon Treaty was defeated – and the global financial crisis meant his Government’s first Budget was brought forward two months with a package of swingeing austerity measures.

By the time he decided to step down as Fianna Fáil leader in January 2011 – having lost the confidence of his Green coalition partners – Fianna Fáil had slumped to third place in party opinion polls, and Cowen was the least popular head of government in modern Irish history.

Read: Er, what’s happening on the Euronews website?

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About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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