End of line for Ireland's most unpopular prime minister (News Feature)
By Fiona Smith Feb 1, 2011, 15:28 GMT
Dublin - As Brian Cowen finally ended his long goodbye to the Irish electorate Tuesday with the dissolution of parliament, he did so as the most unpopular prime minister since polling began.
Tuesday would also be the final day in parliament for Cowen who announced late Monday that he will not run for re-election, dealing the death blow to a career put into a serious decline in November by the bailout from the European Union and International Monetary Fund (IMF).
When Cowen became prime minister in May 2008, the prosperity generated by the Celtic Tiger, Ireland's economic boom, was still much in evidence.
During his time in office, he has seen the bursting of the property bubble, the near-implosion of the country's banking system and unemployment jump from 5.5 per cent to 13.2 per cent.
Cowen has presided over a 35-billion-euro (48-billion-dollar) bailout for failed Anglo Irish Bank and a catastrophically expensive blanket guarantee of deposits in Irish banks - viewed by many as his party's attempt to protect its friends at the taxpayers' expense.
He has been forced to accept an EU/IMF bailout worth 85 billion euros, to pay for which the public is being forced to endure a savage round of public spending cuts.
Throughout it all, he has remained bullish, dogged in defeat, remaining on as prime minister even after he was forced out as party leader 10 days ago.
Politically, he has been a dead man walking since the Green Party announced it would withdraw their support after December's austerity budget legislation was enacted.
With the Green gun to his head, Cowen promised a January election.
Then he claimed that his government needed a few more months to enact the finance bill, key legislation underpinning the austerity budget, agreed with the EU and IMF.
He was finally forced into naming the day for March 11, but not before he had attempted an audacious cabinet reshuffle, with an eye to improving his party's chances in the upcoming election.
His leaving of office has been painful and protracted, but has elicited little sympathy.
The overriding impression that Cowen leaves is of a misguided party man who could not raise his game when it came to leading the country.
Even his detractors however have not put his integrity in question, with charges of bad judgement most often being levelled at him.
Like many of the Fianna Fail party faithful, Brian Cowen was born into politics. Three generations of his family had been involved in the Fianna Fail since its formation in 1926.
Cowen became a Member of Parliament for the midlands Laois-Offaly constituency in 1984, aged just 24, filling the vacant seat when his father died.
He rose quickly up the party ranks. He served as labour minister (1992-93), energy minister (1993), transport, energy and communications minister (1993-94), minister for health and children (1997-2000), foreign affairs minister (2000-04) and finance minister (2004-08) and as deputy prime minister (2007-08).
He became leader of Fianna Fail on the resignation of Bertie Ahern in May 2008.
On 7 May 2008, he was nominated by parliament, the Dail, to replace Ahern as prime minister and his detractors never tired of reminding him that he was an unelected prime minister.
The Irish electorate's rejection of the ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon on 12 June 2008 was a crushing defeat for Cowen, auguring what was to come in his premiership.
Cowen had dealt a damaging blow to his own side when, on May 12 2008, he admitted in a radio interview that he had not read the Treaty of Lisbon in its entirety
Cowen's administration saw the bursting of the huge property bubble which had helped fuel the Celtic Tiger economic boom.
Within a few months of his coming to office, the Irish banking system had almost collapsed, prompting his government to put in place an ill-fated blanket ban on all deposits in Irish banks.
He introduced successive austerity budgets while spending 35 billion on bailing out the failed Anglo Irish Bank.
Ireland's deepening financial and banking crisis culminated in his government's formal request for a financial rescue from the EU IMF in November.
Cowen had infuriated the Irish people by denying the necessity of the bailout up to the last minute.
With his personal approval rating hovering at between 8 and 10 per cent in January, he was the least popular incumbent politician in the history of opinion polls in Ireland.
He leaves the helm of the once-dominant Fianna Fail party with a support level of 16 per cent.
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