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Cablegate: Brian Cowen Poised to Become Prime Minister Of

VZCZCXRO7344
RR RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHDL #0248/01 1281215
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
R 071215Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY DUBLIN
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9135
INFO RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES
RUEHBL/AMCONSUL BELFAST 0741

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 DUBLIN 000248

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/07/2018
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR EI
SUBJECT: BRIAN COWEN POISED TO BECOME PRIME MINISTER OF
IRELAND

REF: DUBLIN 192 AND PREVIOUS

DUBLIN 00000248 001.2 OF 002


Classified By: Ambassador Thomas C. Foley; Reasons 1.4 (B) and (D).

--------------------------------------------
Bertie Ahern Resigns as Irish Prime Minister
--------------------------------------------

1. (U) At about 6:00 PM on May 6, former Irish Prime
Minister (Taoiseach) Bertie Ahern presented his resignation
to Irish President Mary McAleese, clearing the way for Brian
Cowen to be elected as the new Prime Minister of Ireland by
the Dail (Lower House of Parliament) (reftel). Cowen's
election -- a foregone conclusion -- will take place about
3:00 PM on May 8. He is expected to announce his new Cabinet
the same evening.

2. (SBU) In a political development that was not unexpected,
Minister of Arts, Sports and Tourism Seamus Brennan also
announced his resignation on May 6. (Comment: Brennan's
resignation gives Cowen the opportunity to fill two cabinet
positions without changing the current slate of Ministers --
Brennan's and the important portfolio of Minister of Finance,
which Cowen is vacating. In addition to the Finance Minister
position, the Irish political world is anxious to learn who
Cowen will name as Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste).
However, Cowen has been holding his cards close to his chest;
even long-time political pundits don't expect to discover the
new Cabinet line-up until Cowen makes a public announcement.
End comment.)

--------------------------------------------- ------
Biography of Brian Cowen, Prime Minister of Ireland
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (U) Brian Cowen became Prime Minister (Taoiseach,
TEE-SHUCK) of Ireland on May 7, 2008, succeeding Bertie
Ahern, who had led the nation for almost eleven years. Prior
to becoming Prime Minister, Cowen served in Ahern,s cabinet
as Deputy Prime Minister (Tanaiste) and Minister for Finance
from June 14, 2007 to May 7, 2008, following his poll-topping
performance in the May 2007 elections. (He was the highest
vote winner with almost 20% first preference votes.) He was
appointed Minister for Finance by Ahern in September 2004.
Cowen also served as Minister for Foreign Affairs under Ahern
from January 2000 to September 2004, a position in which he
was regarded as being highly successful.

4. (U) Cowen was first elected to Parliament in June 1984 in
the Laois Offaly constituency of the Irish mid-lands, in a
by-election occasioned by the death of his father, Bernard.
As a teenager, he developed a reputation for raising the
crowds at his father's election rallies. Having trained and
practiced as a solicitor, he brought the raucous, combative
style of arguing he developed in university debating circles
to Parliament. Throughout his political career, Cowen has
maintained a reputation as a formidable debater and is known
for his direct approach to negotiations.

5. (U) Prime Minister Albert Reynolds promoted Cowen to the
Cabinet in 1992. Introducing Reynolds to the party faithful
at the 1992 Convention, Cowen questioned the wisdom of
participating in a coalition with the Progressive Democrats
stating, "When in doubt, leave them out."

6. (U) In 1993, Cowen was promoted Minister for Transport,
Energy and Communications in the Fianna Fail-Labour
Coalition. After his party fell out of government later that
year, he became opposition spokesman for agriculture and
later took the health brief. When Fianna Fail returned to
government in 1997, he became Minister for Health and, like
many of his predecessors, grappled with the problem of
improving inadequate health services.

7. (U) As Minister for Foreign Affairs, he faced the
difficult challenge of implementing the Good Friday
Agreement. In addition, Cowen played a central role in the
approval of the second Nice Treaty referendum in 2002. He
was a key factor in Ireland's successful tenure on the UN
Security Council in 2001-2002. He also skillfully defended
the Irish Government policy of granting U.S. military and
civilian aircraft landing rights at Shannon airport during
and after the Iraq conflict.

8. (U) In June 2003 during a trip to the Middle East, Cowen
met with Arafat in his compound, effectively foregoing a
meeting with Prime Minister Sharon and the Israeli
government. Afterward, Cowen commented negatively on
Arafat's living conditions and urged an end to violence in
the region.


DUBLIN 00000248 002.2 OF 002


9. (U) Cowen utilized his negotiation skills during
Ireland's Presidency of the European Union during the first
half of 2004, which saw not only the Union's enlargement from
15 to 25 Member States, but also agreements on a new
Commission President and the text of a Constitutional Treaty.

10. (U) Cowen is noted as a strong supporter of local
initiatives. He recently laid the stone for a new 17 million
euro (USD 26.5 million) engineering school at the Regional
Technical School Athlone, which serves Offaly. He is also a
strong advocate of the Atlantic Corridor, a business
promotion organization created in 1999 to foster development
of the Irish mid-lands through global and cross-border links.

11. (U) Cowen is very popular among rank-and-file Fianna
Fail members, who affectionately refer to him (as he also
refers to himself) as &BIFFO,8 which commonly stands for
&Big, Ignorant F--ker from Offaly,8 Cowen,s home county.
The description is thought to apply especially well to Cowen,
who is burly and brusque, and has the reputation of not being
much concerned with his public image.

12. (C) Well respected by all parties in Northern Ireland,
Cowen is trusted by the Republican community. He enjoys a
close working relationship with Peter Robinson, who has taken
over leadership of the Democratic Unionist Party in the North
and is poised to become First Minister of Northern Ireland in
June 2008. (They were fellow Ministers of Finance in their
respective states from June 2007 to May 2008.) Cowen is
steeped in Fianna Fail tradition and is a popular figure
within Fianna Fail.

13. (C) Cowen likes to socialize with his constituents in
local pubs in his native Offaly and is regarded as having a
good sense of humor. However, he does not suffer fools
gladly. He is known as having a good singing voice. In May
2003, he took part in a community project in Tullamore (the
county seat of Offaly), in which he sang Phil Coulter,s
song, &The Town I Love so Well,8 on a compact disk that was
sold to raise funds for charity.

14. (C) Cowen is more affable and approachable than former
Prime Minister Ahern. Based on assessments of Embassy
personnel, Cowen probably offers the opportunity for a closer
personal relationship that did Ahern, who was known as a
&sociable loner.8

15. (U) A member of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA),
Cowen serves as President of Clara GAA and played with the
Offaly Gaelic Football team in the early 1980,s. He is
reportedly interested in horse-racing.

16. (U) Cowen is married to Mary Molloy (also from Offaly)
and has two daughters, Sinead and Maedhbh.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
End Biography of Brian Cowen, Prime Minister of Ireland
--------------------------------------------- ----------
FOLEY

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