Cowen-gate

Right, so for those people not living in Ireland, or living under a rock in Ireland, here’s what happened yesterday morning.

Mmm, lovely pints.

Our Taoiseach (pronounced tee-shock) Brian Cowen is currently attending a party ‘think-in’, or strategy meeting with the rest of the Fianna Fail party at a hotel in the country. Normally, these things consist of meetings during the day, and then dinner in the evening and not surprisingly, a trip to the bar. Ireland has a peculiar attitude to drinking and while things are much improved, it’s still the case that most social events revolve around bars and drinking. Usually it’s good fun, and even in this case, I don’t have a problem at all with politicians having a few pints and winding down together after a day’s work.

Those attending the event are paying for it themselves as it’s not a government function, but rather a private party function. So what’s the problem exactly? Well apparently on Monday evening events in the bar ran late and the Taoiseach had a late night – heading to bed around 3:30am. The only problem was that he agreed to do a media interview with Ireland’s main news outlet at 8:55am the next morning, and when he went on air, he sounded . . . worse for wear. Now, maybe he was singing, smoking or shouting late at night — apparently he’s quite good fun in the right circumstances — all of which would lead to a husky voice the next morning, but he also sounded slightly like he was slurring his words. Here, have a listen: http://bit.ly/aq1sal

Anyway, an opposition politician who heard the interview couldn’t resist tweeting about it – basically saying our glorious leader sounded either drunk or hung over – and all hell broke loose. Since then, the story has gone around the world, and Cowen has been forced to officially deny he was drunk at 9am in the morning. Not a shining day for Irish politics. But here’s the thing – amidst all the coverage and the countless hours of talk shows that have covered the issue here, nobody has addressed a point I think is pretty important.

I don’t begrudge anyone a pint. It would be pretty hypocritical of me — I’m a light to moderate drinker but I have had my moments. So I don’t think it’s a problem for a politician to be a drinker – really I’m more interested in their ability to do the job they were elected to do. Drinking is only an issue for me in so far as it impacts that ability.

And here’s the issue. Cowen was seen drinking on the night in question, but he apparently only drank water until after dinner when he switched to pints. That’s fairly responsible, but should the Taoiseach or prime minister of a country drink at all?

Much of the coverage of this (non)event has focused on how he sounded in the interview, but this misses the point. It seems to me that a state leader should be ready to do his job 24 hours a day. Of course they have to sleep, and have down time but if they have to be woken at two or three in the morning in the event of a national crises, ideally they won’t have had six or eight pints before bed.

The fact that this angle hasn’t been mentioned in the public debate on what has been dubbed Cowen-gate is indicative of the lack of maturity of Irish society when it comes to attitudes to alcohol. Also, why did the Taoiseach choose to do the interview at all? He could easily have said “I’ll do it later.” Bizarre.

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