Oddly Enough

New Irish PM Cowen apologises for use of "F" word

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen apologised on Thursday for swearing after a heated parliamentary session that prompted criticism of his leadership style just two weeks into the job.

Ireland's Taoiseach Brian Cowen smiles as he arrives for the USNI Investment Conference at the Stormont Parliament Building in Belfast May 8, 2008. REUTERS/David Moir

Cowen, who took over as prime minister on May 7, ended a question time session with opposition deputies on Wednesday when a microphone in the Dail lower chamber picked up a conversation with Deputy Prime Minister Mary Coughlan.

“Ring those people, get a handle on them ... We’ve seen all those f---ers,” Cowen was heard saying, although it was not clear who he was referring to.

Cowen, known for a sometimes gruff public persona, a robust debating style and a sharp intellect, apologised for the remark, saying he had become frustrated by repeated interruptions when he was trying to reply to a question.

“A private comment was made to a colleague,” Cowen told reporters. “It wasn’t appropriate. It isn’t appropriate whether it’s inside the Dail or outside the Dail.”

“I apologise for it.”

Fine Gael, headed by Enda Kenny, accused him of “aggressive and bullying behaviour” but Cowen denied the allegations that his comments were directed at the opposition party.

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“Mr Kenny is right when he says that it is unbecoming for a prime minister to use bad language, especially during a sitting of parliament,” the Irish Independent wrote in an editorial.

“The Taoiseach (prime minister) might be well advised not to let it happen again.”

But not everyone thought it would necessarily damage Cowen’s reputation, at least for now.

“Voters like a bit of life in their leaders and Mr Cowen’s outburst will have done him no harm,” wrote Shaun Connolly in the Irish Examiner. “But he can only afford to play the street fighter a few times before it begins to take away from the lustre of his office.”

Editing by Elizabeth Piper