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Taoiseach Brian Cowen granted journalist Jason OToole 15 hours of interviews for his new book Brian Cowen: The Path To Power. Here, in the final part of the Mails exclusive serialisation of the intimate biography, former taoiseach Albert Reynolds reveals how he mentored Cowen.
IT IS, in light of the events of the past week, somewhat ironic that Brian Cowens own willingness to stand up to Charlie Haughey on issues of Government policy is one of the traits that first marked him out for high office.
Cowen backed Albert Reynolds in his failed leadership bid of 1991 so it was not surprising when, on his eventual triumph in 1992, Reynolds rewarded the Offaly man with a ministerial position. What was unusual, however, was that it was a full Cabinet post.
But Reynolds had seen great promise in Cowen ever since he canvassed for him in his 1984 by-election campaign. In fact, he saw Cowen as a future Taoiseach even then and believes he was not alone in doing so.
I knew he had the potential to be a minister straight away rather than starting out with a junior ministerial post. Everyone saw him as a future Taoiseach.
He was a great thinker. His father was a good thinker too, but I hope Im not being unfair Brian was at a different level, recalls Reynolds. His appointment was far from favouritism. It was his ability first and then his loyalty thats the way I put them. I could see a great future in him.
In Reynolds view, Charlie Haughey would never have brought Cowen on: firstly, he says, because he would have considered him too bright; secondly, because Cowen was not one of Haugheys people; and thirdly and most tellingly, because Cowens courage in boldly stating his views on government policies and actions within the parliamentary party would not have endeared him to Haughey.
Brian was a party man rather than a government man, says Reynolds.
On his appointment to the Cabinet, Cowen had to give up active involvement in his solicitors practice in Tullamore. It was not a difficult decision, even though Cowen realized that from a financial point of view the legal profession offered a far more secure career.
Well, if the truth be told, my passion is in politics, really, he explains. My profession is a profession its a way of making a living. I didnt hesitate about making the move. I have no regrets.
And his indeed was to prove a meteoric rise through the Cabinet ranks.
A brief stint at the Department of Labour was followed by Transport, Energy and Communications and then, in 1997, by what Cowen knew even then was the most challenging Cabinet post of all, Health. However, his political ambitions made it impossible for him to turn down such a high-profile job.
I was glad to be in the cabinet. Im a traditionalist on these matters. The Taoiseach is elected, he picks his cabinet and decides who he wants. It is arguable that his time as health minister was the most disappointing period of Cowens cabinet career. But, apart from the bitter nurses strike of 1999, he emerged relatively unscathed.
Even then, Cowen saw an urgent need for fundamental restructuring of public health. At the same time, he was aware that change needed careful planning: You have to structure your response, and see if you have to build up capacity. You dont want to turn around and increase capacity by 300 per cent and then find its too much. Thats waste.
He felt that the public needed to recognise what it is the system can deliver and what are the impediments. Some more resources would be a help, but these have to be planned.
In ordinary persons terms that just means giving everyone the best possible chance of surviving. …