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How Brian bowed out - and how the other leaders waved goodbye

The Ceann Comhairle called him “Taoiseach Bertie Ahern” but Cowen got a standing ovation for speech as four other party leaders fired the first shots of the election campaign.

Actor Ger O'Leary re-enacts a speech by trade unionists James Larkin as the Dail dissolves inside Leinster House today
Actor Ger O'Leary re-enacts a speech by trade unionists James Larkin as the Dail dissolves inside Leinster House today
Image: PA Images/Niall Carson

SOME SAY BRIAN Cowen’s leadership was haunted by the legacy of his predecessors. Some say he brought his troubles on himself.

Ceann Comhairle Seamus Kirk brought a little element of both together in his introduction to Brian Cowen as he made his final speech to the 30th Dail today, announcing him as “Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.”

However, the outgoing Laois-Offaly TD and former leader of Fianna Fail didn’t blink an eye. His wife Mary and two daughters sat in the gallery in solidarity with Cowen as he addressed the House before heading to Aras an Uachtarain to dissolve the Dail.

He opened on a personal note, saying he entered politics after the death of his father Bernard, a former Fianna Fail TD and Senator, in 1984. He said that he viewed politics as a public service and “an honourable profession”. The recently-resigned FF leader added that he had “no time for the cynics who talk down or belittle people in public service”.

With regards to the upcoming election – which Cowen will not contest – he said that:

This election should not be about personalities. It should be about serious debate, reflection and the solemn business of democracy.

He called on the parties contesting the election to have confidence in Ireland’s future. We are the fifth best country in the world according to the UN Human Development Index, he said. Ireland’s exports performance, US investment in Ireland and our high number of young graduates were all cited by Cowen as assets to the country and a foundation on which the economy could prosper “if responsible policies continue to be pursued”.

New Fianna Fail leader got a nod from Cowen for his role in helping negotiate “the longest-ever unbroken period of power-sharing government in Northern Ireland”.

As for his own leadership of the country, Cowen insisted that the decisions his government had taken “were not popular – but they had to be taken”.

Cowen got poetical towards the end of his speech, quoting from both poet John O’Donohue and An Raiftearai, the line, “May you be hospitable to criticism” particularly appropriate to his last months in power.

The Taoiseach sat down to a standing ovation in the House, the first Taoiseach in the history of Dail Eireann not to be contesting an upcoming general election.

The leaders of the other four main parties in the Dail then got their chance to speak. This is how they fared:

Enda Kenny – Fine Gael

Introduction - He is heckled for starting with his thanks to the Ceann Comhairle that all five major party leaders will get a chance to speak at the final meeting of the 30th Dail, in a side swipe at the continuing three-way/five-way leadership debate row.

On the Taoiseach - Kenny remembers fondly asking Brian Cowen’s little daughter Maeve: ‘Who’s that man?’ when Cowen walked out at a ceremony last year. “That’s my daddy,” she said to him. Then he moves on quickly to tell the Taoiseach that he is retiring after leading the “worst” government the State had seen.

On the general election campaign -

  • Fine Gael plans to create 20,000 jobs over the next four years;
  • Kenny says they are looking at universal health insurance and a system modelled on the Dutch health system;
  • Fine Gael want to cut politician  numbers by a third; put a ceiling on public pay; car pool ministerial vehicles.

Kenny’s sign-off - He offers the Irish people “strong, courageous and fair government”.

Eamon Gilmore – Labour

Introduction - Wishes well to all retiring deputies in the Dail.

On the Taoiseach – He acknowledges that he and Cowen have clashed but wishes him and his family the best for the future. Then he turns to the fact that “we have three weeks to decide the future of this country”.

On the general election campaign –

  • The country can recover: “Our abilities are far greater than our problems. We can and we will get through this recession”;
  • Labour will not be supporting a “two-tier” health system and want to increase literacy levels in the country;
  • He says that those who vote Fianna Fail can expect to get “more of the same”;
  • Accuses Fine Gael of embracing austerity and backing the IMF deal, much as Fianna Fail did.

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Gilmore’s sign-off – They want three things for the country: Jobs, Reform and Fairness.

John Gormley – Green Party

Introduction - He is concerned about the health of so many retiring deputies, an issue that hasn’t been focused on. “Politics has been denigrated for far too long in this country,” he says and pays tribute to civil servants he has worked with too.

On the Taoiseach – All the best for the future and good health to you. He says: “I have always found you to be a decent person” but says there was legislation they hadn’t gotten around to, including the ban on corporate donations and addressing the “peak oil situation”.

On the general election campaign –

  • It is time for a new electoral system, with single-seat constituencies and perhaps only 60 TDs elected;
  • Emigration must be tackled: Gormley says he remembers emigrating in the 1980s, and now that young people are emigrating again, “we can do better”;
  • He acknowledges that Fine Gael and Labour might be elected into government but infers that this would be a case of “Tweedledumb and Tweedledumber” and that the Greens would be needed to “hold them to account”.

Gormley’s sign-off: Has a pop at Lucinda Creighton – who had called across him about the Poolbeg incinerator during his speech – saying, “It’s a pity you had to breach litter laws by putting up posters early”.

Caoimhghin O Caolain – Sinn Fein

Introduction - Refers to a call he took from a blind elderly constituent recently about having his money cut – and speaks about the minimum wage cut protests outside Leinster House that day.

On the Taoiseach - O Caolain waits until late in his speech to address the Taoiseach whom he sends all his “personal best wishes” on his retirement. He mentions retiring Sinn Fein TD retiree Arthur Morgan first.

On the general election campaign -

  • O Caolain is not convinced that Gormley’s prediction about  the make-up of the next government is “on solid ground”;
  • He wants to know where all the jobs promised in the pro-Lisbon campaign have gone;
  • Claims that Sinn Fein stood against cuts and the election of SF’s Pearse Doherty in Donegal South West “led to the fall of this government”;
  • Sinn Fein will be setting out their proposals “in detail” to the electorate shortly.

O Caolain’s sign-off: We want liberty and justice for all.

This was Brian Cowen’s final address to the Dail today >

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