The former 26-County Taoiseach Brian Cowen has admitted his government had no plan to deal with the economic collapse in 2008. He claimed that ‘nobody is more sorry’ than him about what happened to the country, but refused to apologise for the debacle.
In his first full interview since leaving public life in 2011, Cowen admitted he did not believe the sceptics who warned the economy was in danger of collapsing, and he had not thought it necessary to prepare for a ‘worst-case’ scenario.
“Well, the truth is that we didn’t believe it. We thought the economy would have a soft landing, that economic growth would continue and we could pay for it through the growth that was to come,” he said.
Cowen was accused in 2010 of having an alcohol problem after he appeared to be intoxicated during an early morning radio interview.
Cowen did not seek re-election in Laois-Offaly after stepping down as Taoiseach and is currently on a combined TD and ministerial pension worth over 130,000 euro.
In an interview with TG4’s ‘Comhra’ programme earlier this month, Cowen said he would not apologise for his actions in government. He said only that it was “very regrettable” that people were now carrying a huge burden as a consequence of the crisis.
“I would like to say because it’s important to do so, and I’ve said this before, I have a serious duty to accept my responsibility for what happened and I’m doing that. A lot of people are in trouble and they’ve got mortgages to repay and so on,” he said.
He said he stood over his government’s decision to introduce the State bank guarantee.
“You see, what was happening at that time was that billions of euro were leaving the country. So we had to stop that and get that money back into the country if possible,” said Cowen.
The bank guarantee halted the flow of funds temporarily but the decision to extend it indefinitely left the taxpayer with a bill of 64bn euro due to the scale of the losses on the banks’ property loans.
Cowen said that after the guarantee “other things started to happen, which we hadn’t foreseen”.
The decision is set to be examined by a future banking inquiry, the details of which are still to be revealed. The former Taoiseach has already pledged his full co-operation.
Responding separately to claims that he has not apologised for the mistakes that happened during his period in office, he insisted that he had expressed regret on a number of occasions.
“There is no one more sorry than I about what happened. Sometimes I get the impression that the request for an apology is as if in some way I went out to do something wrong and I should apologise for that. The motivation of my government was to do the very best we could,” he said.
He also said this week he had retired from politics and he was not going to engage in political controversy with anybody.
But Sinn Féin Finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty said his comments highlighted the “cocky and arrogant” mentality that marked his and other Fianna Fail led governments.
“Sinn Féin and others continually highlighted the weakness of our economy, the folly of an over dependence on the property market and the likelihood of a crash only to be told by Fianna Fail that we were cribbing and complaining.
“Bertie Ahern even went as far as to suggest that ourselves and others who were warning of the dangers facing the economy should just go and kill ourselves.
“It is this type of arrogance, typified by Brian Cowen’s failure to listen to anyone who didn’t agree with him, that ultimately meant we had no plan B as we collapsed into crisis.
“Brian Cowen and his Fianna Fail colleagues, including Micheal Martin, have a lot to answer for. His refusal to apologise to the Irish people shows he has not lost his arrogance.
“Unfortunately Fianna Fail has been replaced by Fine Gael, a party that shares Fianna Fail’s ideology and is gaining a level of arrogance to compete with its predecessor.”