herald

Monday 17 December 2018

He has let himself down, his family down, and the whole country down

Once upon a time, the caricature of the drunken Irishman played well abroad.

Back in the 1800s, Punch magazine ran cartoons of the savage, drunken Paddy. Then it was part of racist stereotype at a time when we threatened our colonial masters. From Daniel O'Connell to Parnell, we were proving that we were the opposite of that caricature.

Now Brian Cowen has dragged us back 200 years. International media organisations have been running his denial that he was drunk on air since mid-morning yesterday.

Simple question -- would international financiers invest in a company where there is ongoing speculation about why the CEO is forced into a situation where he has to deny he's drunk, or hungover?

Let's imagine the company is itself concerned about his behaviour. They may warn him. He then has a responsibility not to put himself in positions where the issue could arise.

That is why Brian Cowen has let himself and his family down. He has reopened all the speculation at a time when he and the country least need it. Brian Cowen's family will have to undergo looks and rumour. Who has put them in that position? Let's come out of denial.

Is Brian Cowen a functioning but alcohol-dependent person? I cannot say. He utterly rejects any such notions. I have met many people who have brilliant brains but who are dependent on alcohol to cope with stress. Some get by. Up to a point.

Trust

The RTE interview was not the worst I've heard. But it is the timing and manner. Was his behaviour in staying up until 3am detrimental to his competency? If he had done a brillant interview, no one would be asking questions. The next question is can we trust him? If we are forced to take another Anglo-type decision at 3am, I don't want a stand-up comedian.

If you go into hospital and the porter has a hangover, you're not too worried. If the surgeon has to deny he has one, it is a different matter. This story raises deeper issues. How many people cover for drink-related problems every day in this country? We do it out of a sense of decency for people but drink has a special place in our pysche.

Are we enabling someone who needs help to avoid their problem? I am not suggesting that Brian Cowen is in that category. However for his own career, family and the country's reputation he needs to come to acceptance. Acceptance that his alleged drinking habits, rightly or wrongly, are now a serious problem for us all. Over to you.

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