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Brian Bernard Cowen (born 10 January 1960) is an Irish former politician who served as Taoiseach and Chief of Fianna Fáil from 2008 to 2011.
Cowen was elected to Dáil Éireann in 1984, for the constituency of Laois-Offaly, Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications from 1993 to 2004, and Minister for Education from 1997 to 2000, and Tánaiste from 2005 to 2008, and Tánaiste from 2000 to 2008, and then Tánay as Taoiseach.
His government faced the financial and banking crises right after taking office weeks.
He has been chastised for his inability to stem the tide of either crisis, resulting in the formal request for financial assistance from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, which was widely viewed in Ireland as a national humiliation.
Following his leadership, Fianna Fáil's public support fell to new lows, and Cowen set a record for the lowest approval rating in Irish opinion polling, with a one-point approval rating of 8%.
Cowen resigned as the Leader of Fianna Fáil in January 2011, but Cowen stayed as Taoiseach after the general election in January 2011. Cowen resigned as Prime Minister of Ireland after a failed attempt at a failed attempt to reconvenes, and facing increasing political resistance, but Cowen resigned as Taoiseach until months later; Cowen remained as Taoiseach until the general election, which was held months later. Cowen was the state's "worst Taoiseach" in 2011.
Early and private life
Brian Cowen was born in Tullamore, County Offaly, on January 10th. May and Bernard Cowen, a former Fianna Fáil TD and Senator, was raised in Clara by his parents, May and Bernard Cowen. The family owned a public house, butcher shop, and other retail stores in Clara, which was near the family's house. His father was also an auctioneer. Cowen used to work in his father's bar when he was growing up. Christopher and Barry are his two brothers. Since 2011, Barry Cowen has been a TD for Laois-Offaly.
Cowen was educated at Clara National School, dnolly Cert. Naomh Chiarain, in Clara, and Mount St. Joseph Cistercian College in Roscrea, County Tipperary. He was twelve years old when he began attending Mount St. Joseph College as a boarder. He studied law at University College Dublin after secondary school, where he concentrated in law. He later qualified as a solicitor with the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, Dublin.
He is a member of the Gaelic Athletic Association and continues to serve as president of Clara's club. In the early 1980s, he competed for the Offaly Gaelic football team. Cowen loves to socialize with his constituents in a few of the local pubs in his hometown, Offaly. He participated in The Brewery Tap pub in Tullamore, May 2003, as a volunteer CD project. Cowen performed "The Town I Loved So Well," a Phil Coulter song.
Cowen told Jason O'Toole of Hot Press in May 2007 that he had noticed a few instances where marijuana was sold around – and that unlike President Clinton, I did inhale. "There wasn't much in it really," the narrator said.
Cowen is married to Mary Molloy, and the two children have two children. The National University of Ireland awarded Cowen an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2017.
Legacy and later life
Cowen became the leader of Fianna Fáil and Taoiseach without ever facing an election in either capacity; he is the only Fianna Fáil leader to have left the country without ever calling the party into a general election. As a result of the International Monetary Fund's intervention in the running of the Irish economy and the European Central Bank's in November 2010, under his leadership of the country, Fianna Fáil's party, saw the country's electoral base decrease by 75% in the general election of February 2011.
Cowen was chastised for his apparent inability to engage with the electorate and for his apparent inability to connect with the electorate. Cowen's "appelling communication abilities and self-destructive tenacity," according to historian Diarmaid Ferriter, is the one fault that has spelled the most havoc on Fianna Fáil.
Cowen accepted responsibility for government decisions as the severity of the party's electoral loss became abundant.
A review of Cowen's administration was shown on RTÉ television in November 2011 for two episodes titled Crisis: Inside the Cowen Government. Cowen did not contribute to the series, but several of his former ministerial colleagues blasted his job as Taoiseach, according to some of his former ministers. Cowen gave a speech at Georgetown University's BMW Center for German and European Studies on Monday, March 21, 2012. "Iron's Reflections on the Road So Far" says the author. In his first public remarks since being out of office, he defended his government's blanket bank guarantee in 2008 but acknowledged that his government should have raised taxes and cut spending. He also agreed that his government should take responsibility for Ireland's economic downturn. He likened the start of the 2008 economic crisis to a string of plane crashes, all taking place at the same time and for different reasons. He receives over €150,000 in annual pension payments.
Cowen joined Topaz Energy's board in May 2014. In February 2015, he was appointed to the board of Beacon Hospital.
Protesters in Dublin demolished Cowen, calling him a "scumbag" and a "traitor" in April 2015.
Cowen was awarded an honorary doctorate from the National University of Ireland in July 2017, an award bestowed to only two former Taoisighs. During his 50-minute acceptance address, he criticized the EU for its conduct during the financial crisis and expressed regret for the fact that so many jobs were lost during the recession. Following the conferring ceremony, the NUI faced significant public criticism for deciding to award the award to Cowen. Ed Walsh, the University of Limerick's former (and founding) president, had announced on October 14 that he would give back his own honorary doctorate in protest, and he did so on November 14, 2018.
Cowen was admitted to Beacon Hospital on July 5 after suffering a major brain hemorrhage. He was then moved to St. Vincent's University Hospital, where he spent five months before moving to a physical rehabilitation center. Cowen is still in hospital after a stroke last year, but he has been making steady progress as of late 2020. Cowen returned home in 2021 and has made his first public appearance in a wheelchair.
Early political career
Cowen was elected to Dáil Éireann in the Laois–Offaly by-election of 1984, caused by the death of his father Bernard Cowen. At the time Cowen, at the age of 24, became the youngest member of the 24th Dáil. He was also elected to Offaly County Council in the same year, taking over the seat vacated by his late father. He served on that authority until 1992.
Cowen remained on the backbenches of Fianna Fáil for the next seven years. Following the 1989 general election when Fianna Fáil formed a coalition government, with the Progressive Democrats, for the first time, Cowen was one of a number of TDs who were vehemently opposed to the move. Two years later in November 1991, the then Minister for Finance, Albert Reynolds, challenged Charles Haughey, for the leadership of the party. Cowen firmly aligned himself behind Reynolds and quickly became associated with the party's so-called "Country and Western" wing. (Reynolds's supporters earned this nickname due to the fact that the vast majority were rural TDs and that Reynolds had made a lot of money in the dance hall business in the 1960s.) Reynolds became leader on his second attempt, when Haughey was forced to retire as Taoiseach in 1992.
Reynolds appointed Cowen, aged 32, to his first cabinet position as Minister for Labour. In spite of being a member of the cabinet, Cowen was openly hostile toward the PDs. This was evident at the Fianna Fáil party's Ardfheis in March 1992. In the warm-up speech before the leader's address, Cowen remarked, "What about the PDs? When in doubt, leave them out." He fought with the PDs, being furious at their interference with Fianna Fáil's view that, as majority partner, they should have wielded the power.
The 1992 general election produced a hung Dáil and resulted in negotiations between all the main parties. Cowen, along with Noel Dempsey and Bertie Ahern, negotiated on behalf of Fianna Fáil in an attempt to form a government with the Labour Party. A deal was reached between the two parties, and Cowen was again appointed Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications. In that role, he implemented the controversial decision to relax the so-called stopover at Shannon Airport, which allowed limited direct trans-Atlantic flights from Dublin Airport. The decision proved divisive and saw one Fianna Fáil TD, Síle de Valera, resign from the party in protest.
In October 1994, it was revealed that Cowen had 1,000 shares in Arcon, a company to which he was in the process of awarding a mining licence. He quickly sold the shares and apologised in the Dáil for causing himself and his colleagues "some embarrassment".
Later in 1994, Albert Reynolds resigned as Taoiseach and leader of Fianna Fáil. Bertie Ahern became the new leader, and initially appeared set to replace Reynolds as Taosieach. However, Labour chose to end the coalition with Fianna Fáil and took part in a new coalition with Fine Gael and Democratic Left, consigning Fianna Fáil to opposition. Cowen was appointed to the front bench, first as Spokesperson on Agriculture, Food and Forestry (1994), and later as Spokesperson on Health (1997).
Cabinet career (1997–2008)
When Fianna Fáil returned to power following the 1997 general election, Cowen was appointed as Minister for Health and Children. He described his period there as like being in Angola because administrative "landmines" could detonate without warning. During his tenure, he had to deal with problems of bed shortages and overcrowding in hospitals, as well as a prolonged nurses' strike in 1999. It came as a relief to Cowen when he was moved to the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs in a cabinet reshuffle in January 2000.
Cowen's tenure as Foreign Minister saw extensive negotiations continue regarding the Northern Ireland peace process and other international activities, particularly when Ireland gained a place on the United Nations Security Council. In 2003, he was the victim of a personal attack by the leader of Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party, Ian Paisley, a former outspoken critic of Ireland and its government. In front of a crowd of party supporters and in the presence of television cameras and radio reporters, Paisley uttered a diatribe about Cowen's personal appearance and also insulted his mother. In 2004, Cowen played a key role during Ireland's Presidency of the European Council and the simultaneous expansion of the European Union.
Following the departure of Finance Minister Charlie McCreevy, upon his nomination as Ireland's European Commissioner in September 2004, Cowen was appointed as Minister for Finance. On 1 December 2004, he announced his first budget, one that was viewed as a give-away budget in which spending was increased by 9%.
Cowen's second budget in 2005 was dominated by a new childcare package, and measures to take 'tax-free millionaires' back into the tax net from 2007 by restricting tax breaks. A readjustment of income-tax measures were designed to take 52,000 low earners out of the tax net and remove 90,000 middle earners from the higher tax band.
Cowen's third budget in 2007, in anticipation of the 2007 general election, was regarded as one of the biggest spending sprees in the history of the state. The €3.7 billion package included increases in pension and social welfare allowances, a marked green agenda, as well as a reduction in the top rate of income tax from 42% to 41%. Cowen has been criticised for alleged complacency during the economic turmoil in January 2008.