Interview with Ireland's PM, Brian Cowen

Interview with Ireland's PM, Brian Cowen

By The Situation Room - March 17, 2010

BLITZER: It's a St. Patrick's Day tradition here in Washington. The Irish prime minister pays a visit and meets with the president. Brian Cowen also had lunch with Mr. Obama and members of Congress. They noted it was first St. Patrick's Day without the late Senator Ted Kennedy. The president went on to pay a light-hearted tribute to people of Irish descent and their contributions to politics.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The truth is they weren't always welcome. There were times where the Irish were caricatured and stereotyped and cursed at and blamed for society's ills. So naturally, a good fit for them to go into politics. It made sense.

BLITZER: And joining us now, a special guest here in THE SITUATION ROOM, the prime minister of Ireland, Brian Cowen. Thanks for coming in.

BRIAN COWEN, IRISH PRIME MINISTER: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Happy St. Patrick's Day.

COWEN: Same to you. It's a great day.

BLITZER: Is there ever going to be a united Ireland?

COWEN: Not without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. That's the Democratic deal we've done. Historically, with the partition of the country, we all have views on that, whether that was the right way forward. But the good Friday agreement, St. Andrews agreement makes it very clear that we will have a united Ireland if the majority of the people in northern Ireland so decide.

BLITZER: Do you think that will ever happen?

COWEN: As I say, the great genius of the agreements we've reached is going on a common journey without deciding what the end destination is. Both sides of the equation, if you like, have legitimate aspirations, they have legitimate philosophies. One seeks to retain the union with Great Britain and a large minority would like to see a united Ireland.

BLITZER: You're not happy with the economy right now. Just a little while ago, there was a great success story in Ireland, but things have gone south.

COWEN: Yeah, I mean, we're a small open economy. We've been effected very much by the world downturn.

BLITZER: Who is to blame for that?

COWEN: All of us can look to see could anyone have foreseen Lehman Brothers and the impact that had.

BLITZER: That had a huge impact on Ireland.

COWEN: Huge. BLITZER: So was it external, the problems that you're facing now or was there some internal problems that you can blame yourself?

COWEN: Both external and internal. On the internal front we had a property bubble in the domestic housing market. But we don't have the problem of toxic paper in our banking system. We have distressed assets in the property portfolios of the banks. We have a solution for that that we'll be announcing.

BLITZER: Let's talk about terrorism. Islamic terrorist suspects in Ireland. How big of a problem is this?

COWEN: I don't think -- let me say, it is part of a bigger problem. Obviously what's happened here --

BLITZER: Is there a network of terrorists operating from Ireland?

COWEN: There's a particular number of -- small number of people who along with strong cooperation of our own security people and security people here, have been keeping a close eye on. We had a couple of arrests to make arising out of conspiracy efforts to try and set up a problem in the Netherlands regarding a journalist.

BLITZER: They were trying to -- the accusation is they wanted to kill a cartoonist who made fun of the prophet Muhammad.

COWEN: That's the accusation. We're investigating it and made arrests. Queer cooperating --

BLITZER: There are Americans involved in this as well?


BLITZER: How many?

COWEN: Well, I mean it's not totally known. There's one particular person, a lady who has been involved in this. I don't want to prejudice the investigation with anything that can be used --

BLITZER: Is there an isolated incident for one conspiracy or part of a bigger problem?

COWEN: From our point of view, we believe it is the only incident that's certainly come to our attention. As I say, a lot of work going on behind the scenes to see how this would emerge. Eventually landed in our area and we dealt with it with the cooperation of the U.S. authorities. But we have a constant -- all of us have to be vigilant. None of us know where these people will try to foment their problems. We have a Muslim community in Ireland. It has assimilated very well. I have to emphasize the vast majority of our people in that ethnic community are decent citizens and work hard. But if there is some element, you see in the UK, where people are UK- born Muslim people who have been, unfortunately, sent down this road of fundamentalist and this cul-de-sac. So we're very conscious and our security people watch this situation closely. BLITZER: We're out of time. A quick question on this sex scandal that's rocking the Catholic Church in Europe right now including in Ireland. It's very disconcerting. What can you tell us?

COWEN: Obviously, the whole question from the state's point of view is we have guidelines in place, we insist on equality before the law. We've had situations in past where clerics have been criminally prosecuted and respective charges that have to be dealt with in the normal way. And as we know, this whole child abuse situation and sex abuse situation is a societal problem as well. It is not simply an issue exclusively for the church authorities to deal with, although in the interests of the authority and the respect and the esteem in which religion is held in our societies, there's a need for people to be as transparent and deal with it as fulsomely as possible. There are issues for the church to make sure that their authority is maintained with their own church-going public from the state's point of view and there's a separate and distinct responsibility to discharge, which is to transparently deal with any issues that arise and deal with them no matter what person's occupation is or where it comes from.

BLITZER: Good luck dealing with that. You got a lot of problems right now, but we're confident that Ireland will do just fine.

COWEN: We're coming through and we intend to be -- when this recession is over, the important point is how do you reposition yourself to take the opportunity when it comes. We're taking major changes in our economy at the moment because we want to make sure that we're competitive, that we put a huge investment in our own people and we have a strong economy that we'll see flourish again as the world economy comes back.

BLITZER: Happy St. Patrick's Day.

COWEN: Same to you, Wolf. Thank you for having us.

BLITZER: Thank you.


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