Sweet Aftons at the Age of 10, Joints at UCD, Pints at the Brewery Tap and a Rousing Chorus of the Fields of Athenry When the Mood Takes Him; Champagne Cowen: Brian Isnt Afraid to Celebrate with a Drink in Front of the Cameras after Regaining His Seat Last May Young Gun: Winning His First Dail Seat at Just 24
Byline: Philip Nolan
IF BRIAN Cowen is elected leader o f Fianna F a i l and becomesTaoiseach on May 6, it is a fairly safe bet that he will be the only nationalleader able to perform a viciously accurate impression of Judge Judy Sheindlin,the TV arbitrator who settles civil disputes for entertainment.
He will also be one of the few who not only admitted to smoking marijuana butempha-sised that he actually inhaled itwhen ducking that question altogether is as much part of modern political lifeas opinion polls and spin.
These are sides to the Tanaiste that voters seldom seeonly Angola, his nickname for the Department of Health when he was ministerthere (because its so easy to step on landmines) gave any hint of the mordantwit his friends and confidantes are always quick to talk up in an attempt toadd colour to his grey image.
Over and over, they tell of his skills as an impersonator and raconteur, boastswhich to most who have never met him seem as improbable as finding out theirgranny can salsa. Yet, very soon, this anonymous-looking former solicitor fromOffaly is almost certain to achieve the destiny towards which he stealthily hasbeen crawling for a quarter of century, since that day, when, at just 24, heinherited his late fathers seat in the Dail.
If he does rise to the top job after successful ministries at Labour, Energy,Health, Transport, Foreign Affairs and, the big one, Finance, it remains to beseen how much leeway he will be granted to shoot from the hip with such ease.Certainly, it might be wise some of his sharper insights were cloaked under thesanctuary of statesmanship.
Though Brian Cowen seems a young man, he is already five years older thanBertie Ahern was when he assumed the leadership of Fianna Fail in 1994. Part ofthe reason for this is that his first seven years in the Dail wereundistinguished. He was opposed to coalition with the Progressive Democrats,and any ministerial ambitions he may have had were dismissed by CharlesHaughey.
Only when Albert Reynolds, whom Cowen had already supported in one failedputsch, finally became Taoiseach did his fortunes start to rise, though hiscontempt for his Government partners surfaced again in warm-up speech at the1992 ard fheis.
Referring to the PDs and their possible role in future coalitions, he haddelegates cheering when he quipped: When in doubt, leave them out.
COWEN was one of the so-called Country and Western Gang of TDs loyal toReynolds, and has now surrounded himself with two similar coteries of his owna small group of local politicians and the so-called Bar Lobby, which meets inthe Visitors and Lobby Bars at Leinster House and includes junior minister BattOKeeffe, TDs John Cregan and John Curran and senators Martin Brady and DenisODonovan.
He is known to be fond of a few pints and, again, he refreshingly avoidspolitical piety and makes no apology for it, pointing out that his father was apublican and he grew up in that environment.
In a Hot Press interview before the last General Election, he spoke of hisattitudes to drink and drugs, saying: Anyone who went to the UCD bar in theSeventies that didnt get a whiff of marijuana would be telling you a lie.
I would say there were a couple of occasions when it was passed aroundand, unlike President Clinton, I did inhale!
There wasnt a whole lot in it, really[it was like] Sweet Afton, as a 10-year-old, under a railway bridge on a rainyday, in small town Ireland in the late Sixties. I certainly got more enjoymentout of a few pints.
Asked, on the hustings, if he was contrite over his actions, he said, withwithering sarcasm: Of course, I regret being young and foolish.
A casual smoker, he also adroitly batted off the accusation that doing so whileminister
health set a bad example. Somebody said that to me once and I said, I didnt askthis job! You get the jobs you get, he laughed. …