Brian Cowen, the pint(s), and the shame

Cowen (left), not last week, but at some other session

You may have heard last week about the Prime Minister who got himself into a bit of bother by having one too many the night before a rather important morning radio interview. It was an interview in which he performed rather poorly, which didn’t go unnoticed across the world.

This is the kind of story you might hear in some far off land or it might be something that Silvio Berlusconi would get up to in Italy. It’s the kind of thing that gets reported in the “And finally…” section of the news bulletin. You listen to the interview and sure enough the leader of the country is a bit hoarse and not all that articulate.

But this was no foreign outpost, no latest cock up from Berlusconi this was in fact the Prime Minister or Taoiseach of Ireland, Brian Cowen who is supposed to be sorting out a country whose finances are in such dire straits, the International Monetary Fund is dangerously close to stepping in. But instead Cowen is partial to the odd pint or twenty the night before an interview with Morning Ireland, the Republic’s equivalent of the Today programme here in the UK.

Imagine if you will, David Cameron going on Today at 8.10am sounding a bit worse for wear after a heavy night during the party’s conference in Birmingham next month. His voice is hoarse, his words are stumbling out and he’s not altogether 100%. More than likely, this just wouldn’t happen.

In fact anyone going on the Today programme for a testing interview is unlikely to indulge too much the night before as they want to be at their best for an important, agenda setting ten minutes where they will be grilled by John Humphrys or in this case Morning Ireland presenter, Cathal Mac Coille.

Going on the lash the night before an early morning start where you have an important engagement is something you do as a student. It is not something you do when you are the Prime Minister of a country that is proposing to make £3bn worth of cuts that will place an extra burden on the already crippled tax payer.

The job of running a country that is in economic turmoil is one for serious people and yet Ireland has been lumbered with some cute hoor who enjoys a pint and a sing song and embarrassing the country in front of the world on national radio.

The most galling thing is that he wasn’t even elected, stepping in when Bertie Ahern stepped down as Taoiseach in 2008 in the manner of Gordon Brown replacing Tony Blair in the year before.

But at least Gordon Brown was a serious man, a little too serious for some people’s liking but Brown never took the piss out of the taxpayers by getting pissed and embarassing himself and his country. No, that’s been the job of Brian Cowen who remains in charge but by the skin of his teeth.

Talk of a heave is rife and the man who would replace him is Brian Lenihan, the finance minister, who continues to perform his role despite being stricken by pancreatic cancer. A serious man. That is exactly what Ireland needs right now. Not some cute hoor who has done enough damage as it is.

Circus Clegg comes to Liverpool

So the choice was clear, a day doing dissertation in the library or a sunny afternoon in Penny Lane stalking Nick Clegg as he met locals, and did countless interviews, including taking a brief question from yours truly.

There was a certain thrill and excitement in the air as the nations media descended on the Penny Lane Development Trust Centre for the visit of the Liberal Democrat leader.

He’d spent the morning and early afternoon branding Gordon Brown and David Cameron as “corrupt” amongst many other things before descending on Liverpool Wavertree, where he’s hoping his party’s candidate Colin Eldridge can win the seat from Labour.

The media surround Nick Clegg in Penny Lane, Wavertree on 7 April 2010

There was my first exposure to a proper media scrum as TV cameras, photographers and the journalists all crammed for a shot of Clegg speaking to youngsters at the community centre. I even got my ugly mug on Granada last night. (After about 30 seconds in if you’re interested!)

Clegg was smooth as you like, he knew how to work the community centre people and then work the media as he was dragged left, right and centre for various interviews. Sky News even made him wait three minutes while they finished interviewing Yvette Cooper. The cheek!

And when it was all over, he jumped back on his bus, adorned with his face and that of the party’s much lauded Treasury spokesman Vince Cable, and departed Wavertree.

It was sunny, it was brief but my word, it was all very exciting for this political journalism novice!

South Africa and going back to Ireland

At the beginning of next month I embark on what I hope will be the journey of a lifetime. I’m spending a month in Cape Town, South Africa working at a local and popular newspaper called the Daily Voice, adding another string to my journalism bow and visiting a part of the world I have always been deeply interested in.

Traveling is something I did a lot as a kid with my parents but I haven’t yet done the backpacking/inter-railing jaunt. While this is not student traveling of a conventional sort it is an incredible opportunity to see a truly beautiful and very different part of the world and hopefully gain unconventional but ultimately rewarding journalistic experience.

Most of my sporadic blogs have focused on mainstream, public interest issues (sadly, there’s probably more public interest in Susan Boyle than in the BNP) but whilst in South Africa I hope to regularly update you on my exploits both professionally and personally, giving you an insight into a naive student journalists adventures in the big bad world.

Beforehand I’m going home to Ireland for a week. My country has been affected worse than most by the recession. The good times were good in Ireland but now the bad times are very bad indeed.

We have government whose incompetency is on a different level to the UK (hard though that may be to believe) and whose response to the recession was not to increase consumer confidence by cutting prices as they did here in the UK with the VAT rate cut but actually raise them in order to raise the money they wasted so frivelously when times were better.

Like Labour, the leading party, Fianna Fail have been in power for twelve years, and like Gordon Brown, Taoiseach Brian Cowen took over from a far more popular predecessor.

However, unlike Labour, Fianna Fail have consumed a previously progressive and lively Green Party, who entered into a promising coalition with them in 2007 but have since seen their standing in Irish politics almost totally obliterated, a great shame but an example of the poisonous nature of Fianna Fail whose standing in Irish politics has never been as low as it is now.

But aside from politics, whenever I go home now the country I left two years ago is almost totally different, a collective gloom has descended on the nation. It’s as noticeable on the busy streets of Dublin as it is in the town of Athy where I am from. Businesses shutting down everyday, a rising unemployment rate and a lot of young people who have only ever known economic growth and general good times.

Now they and the rest of the population face a real test of their resolve to see whether the country can re-emerge and prosper once more. I really hope it can because it’s not much fun going home any more aside from getting to see me mammy!