Brian Cowen

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Brian Cowen
BrianCowen 1.jpg
11th Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland
Term of office
7 May 2008 - Incumbent
Political party Fianna Fáil
Preceded by Bertie Ahern
Born 20 January, 1960
Tullamore, Co. Offaly, Republic of Ireland
Spouse Mary Cowen
Religion Roman Catholic

Brian Cowen, TD (born 10 January, 1960) is the current Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the Republic of Ireland. Prior to becoming Taoiseach on 7 May 2008 after the resignation of his predecessor Bertie Ahern, Cowen served as Minister for Finance from 2004 to 2008, as well as holding other important portfolios prior to this. As well as being Taoiseach he is the current leader of the governing centre-right Fianna Fáil party.

Early life and political career

Brian Cowen became a member of the Irish parliament in 1984, winning a by-election caused by the death of his father, Bernard Cowen. He is married to Mary Cowen, together the couple have two daughters. His interests include Irish cultural sports and singing. Throughout the 1990s Cowen quickly rose within the Fianna Fail (FF) party, serving in the following positions in FF governments:

  • Minister for Labour (1992 - 1993)
  • Minister for Energy (1993)
  • Minister for Transport, Energy and Communications [amalgamated portfolio] (1993 - 1994)
  • Minister for Health and Children (1997 - 2000)
  • Minister for Foreign Affairs (2000 - 2004)
  • Minister for Finance (2004 - 2008)

After the 2007 general election, Taoiseach Bertie Ahern appointed Cowen his Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) and strongly hinted that in the event of his departure, Cowen should take his place as leader of Fianna Fail. This happened a year later when Mr. Ahern resigned due to pressure over an investigation into his financial affairs. Mr. Cowen assumed the leadership of the party and the Dáil (parliament) elected him as the eleventh Taoiseach the following day.

Cowen as Taoiseach

Upon assuming office, Cowen enjoyed high popularity in opinion polls. However, this "political honeymoon" as it was called was not to last. A referendum on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty was due within a month of Cowen's assumption of office, and despite a vigorous campaign on his part for a Yes vote, the treaty was rejected. Cowen was seen as having lost his first political test.

Throughout the summer various other problems ensued, most notably concerning the economy, which was heading towards a recession. With the economic crisis proving particularly bad in late September and early October, and following the initial rejection by the US House of Representatives of a $700 billion dollar bail out bill, Cowen and his Finance Minister Brian Lenihan Jr. formed an Irish equivalent of the bail out scheme. The government maintained that such an action was necessary to prevent the complete collapse of the Irish economy. Though initially controversial, the action was welcomed by the public.

This warm reception did not last however - the Government Budget for 2009, announced in October 2008 by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan proved to be extremely contentious. Of most pressing concern was the government decision to take away medical cards from over-70s as a costcutting measure, and a 1% levy on all incomes. Though these measures were blamed on the recession the Irish economy was finding itself in, they were extremely unpopular. In the days after the announcement of the Budget, Cowen made concessions, reversing the income levy for those on the minimum wage, and raising the income limit for seniors that would determine whether or not they would be allowed a medical card.

The medical card controversy caused particular worry in Cowen's government - several elected members of the ruling party openly condemned the move, and two resigned from the party. Due to the public outcry surrounding the budget, and the impending reality of a second referendum on the Lisbon treaty, Cowen's popularity and influence are waning. Further controversies and in-party revolts relating to the Budget, and revelations regarding excessive use of taxpayers' money by government officials and agencies have further dented Cowen's reputation, and an election is looking more likely in the near future, so much so that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore have begun preparing their parties for an election campaign, only eighteen months after the previous election.

Cowen inherited his predecessor's good working relationship with US President George W. Bush. Recently Cowen invited President-elect Barack Obama to Ireland. Much has been made in the Irish media of Obama's Irish ancestry; an ancestor of his mother emigrated to America from County Offaly in the 19th century, which coincidentally is Mr. Cowen's home county.

Cabinet (2008 - )

Brian Cowen's government controls the 30th Irish Dáil (parliament). The government is a coalition of Fianna Fail and the Green Party. The coalition had also included one member of the Progressive Democrats (PD) party, which disbanded in November 2008. The sole PD member in the government, Mary Harney, was allowed retain her cabinet seat as an Independent TD.

As of 2008, the President of Ireland during Cowen's tenure is Mary McAleese, while Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny serves as Leader of the Opposition.

Position Minister Party
Taoiseach Brian Cowen Fianna Fáil
Tánasite Mary Coughlan Fianna Fáil
Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan, Jr. Fianna Fáil
Minister for Justice, Equality & Law Reform Dermot Ahern Fianna Fáil
Minister for Foreign Affairs Michael Martin Fianna Fáil
Minister for Defence Willie O'Dea Fianna Fáil
Minister for Health Mary Harney Independent (former PD)
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries & Food Brendan Smith Fianna Fáil
Minister for Arts, Sports & Tourism Martin Cullen Fianna Fáil
Minister for Communications, Energy & Natural Resources Eamonn Ryan Green Party
Minister for Community, Gaeltacht & Rural Affairs Eamon O'Cuív Fianna Fáil
Minister for Education & Science Batt O'Keeffe Fianna Fáil
Minister for Enterprise, Trade & Employment Mary Coughlan Fianna Fáil
Minister for the Environment, Heritage & Local Government John Gormley Green Party
Minister for Social & Family Affairs Mary Hanafin Fianna Fáil
Minister for Transport Noel Dempsey Fianna Fáil