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This week’s column had been intended as a plea to those who had voted confidence in Brian Cowen’s leadership to think again. His Saturday afternoon statement changed all that.

 

Brian’s decision to relinquish the leadership of Fianna Fáil was not an easy decision for him. Whatever his faults, and they have been much discussed during the past days and weeks by many, including myself, Brian is a man of great intelligence and of great loyalty to the republican ideals and principles of the party he loved and so faithfully served.

 

Throughout his career he put the focus on policy and never on personality – whether that was in government as a Minister or as an opposition spokesman. I saw this commitment to ideas and policies during the years we served together in government.   

 

He is a man of substance.  He is a man not swayed by the need for the quick responses necessitated by the 24 hour news cycle. He is undoubtedly a man of great resolve; indeed it is arguable that this firm resolve may be the root of some of his current difficulties. He is also an intensely private man.

 

Throughout this whole saga I repeatedly stated that I agreed with those who supported in Brian when they spoke of his great talents and skills.

Despite the claims of his critics outside Fianna Fail Brian does know and does understand people’s fears and deep concerns. He is a man of great compassion. He has a deep love for the country and a sincere connection with the people which underpinned all his actions.

While I and others knew all this, the public regrettably did not

I say this as someone who has stood up for Brian on many occasions, even since my departure from government. The sad and tragic truth for Brian Cowen is that the Irish public had decided how they feel about him. They saw him as detached from their concerns.

But Brian’s difficulties did not just lie with a failure of communications and public relations: but in the inability to articulate a vision, to communicate it and to drive it forward relentlessly. 

Fianna Fáil under Brian Cowen was not seen to articulate a vision and was certainly not associated with driving it forward relentlessly. Too often we were seen as slow and faltering in our responses to developing crises.

Most members of the public I encounter appear to have one of two impressions of Brian Cowen. One is silent Brian. The other is what a constituent of mine recently referred to as: Cowen’s shouty TV performances.

While we may have sees the aggressive performances as showing Brian’s passion and tenacity – that was only because we know the other sides to Brian, his humour, his humility and his decency. The public do not.

 

As Taoiseach he put the country first at all times. He was motivated by what was the right thing do, even when it was politically unpalatable and unpopular. He was willing to endure personal political opprobrium to do the right thing.  

 

Yesterday he did the same thing as leader of the party. He put the party’s future before his own and did it with honour and humility. He has stood aside as leader of a party which he loves and deeply in believes. Brian has taken a difficult personal decision. As he said himself the party is bigger than one man and he has acted on that principle.

The political job for each generation is to make life better for the next.  It is the role Fianna Fáil has relished since its foundation and it is one we must focus on now. The people will cast their votes in just under seven week’s time. In that time we must and we will set out how our vision of how Ireland can return to prosperity with fairness.   

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