Andrew Lynch: Seanie's golf revelations put Cowen in the bunker yet again
Brian Cowen has landed himself in another bunker.
The Taoiseach is under severe pressure to explain his relationship with Sean FitzPatrick after revelations that he shared a round of golf, a dinner and a phone call with the disgraced Anglo Irish boss shortly before the banking crisis in 2008.
Even if those contacts were completely innocent, the optics are truly awful -- and with a general election only weeks away, Cowen's new year has just got off to the worst possible start.
We already knew that in April 2008, just a fortnight before he became Taoiseach, Cowen attended a social evening with FitzPatrick and several other Anglo directors.
Now a new book based on interviews with the toxic banker confirms that they were talking to each other much more regularly than previously suspected. The previous month, Seanie had rung up for a chat about Anglo's collapsing share price, while in July of that year the two men enjoyed a game and a meal in the luxurious surroundings of Druids Glen in Wicklow.
So what exactly did they discuss?
According to Seanie and Biffo themselves, it was all fairly harmless.
FitzPatrick claims that "Cowen didn't have much to say, he just said yeah," when told about the looming crisis over the phone, while we are supposed to believe that a few months later they spent an afternoon and evening together without the subject once coming up.
Even if you can swallow this, it does not exactly put either man in a good light.
Why was the Minister for Finance apparently so uninterested in the affairs of a bank that was fuelling the biggest property bubble in the history of the State?
And since Seanie knew that trouble was coming down the tracks, why did he persist with the secret personal loans that brought the whole house of cards crashing down?
As we should know by now, of course, neither of these two men is very good at owning up to their mistakes.
FitzPatrick says he accepts responsibility for what happened to Anglo but refuses to say "sorry" and even has the nerve to describe himself as a scapegoat. These weasel words are uncannily similar to what the Taoiseach has consistently said about his own role in the death of the Celtic Tiger -- just one of the reasons why Cowen was politically finished long before these latest revelations came along.
Even so, the political fallout could be highly significant. The Greens have wasted no time in expressing their unhappiness, raising the possibility that they might use this as a perfect excuse to pull out of government just before the election. Although this wouldn't affect the date of polling day itself (widely suspected to be March 25), it might allow the junior coalition partners to clamber back on to the moral high ground -- an opportunity the PDs famously missed during the uproar over Bertie Ahern's finances in the 2007 campaign.
Either way, the opposition could not have scripted this better themselves. Even if the immediate crisis dies down, the image of Biffo and Seanie hobnobbing on the golf course has now firmly lodged itself in the public mind. It confirms just about every negative perception voters have of the Taoiseach -- that he's too close to dodgy bankers, he's secretive about his past and he ignores problems until it's much too late.
As for Fianna Fail, they can only hold their heads in despair and wonder how much worse things can get. After months of dithering over whether or not to get themselves a new leader for the election, it now looks as if they've left it too late. Cowen won deserved praise for his fighting media performances before Christmas -- but even before this story broke, questions were being asked over why he's been virtually invisible since then.
In golfing parlance, Brian Cowen has been shooting bogeys for a long time now. He's going to need the combined skills of Tiger Woods, Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington to play himself out of this latest dilemma.