The very definition of “Statemanlike”

RTÉ are reporting that new Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, is already making friends in the Dail:

A spokesman for the Taoiseach has said Brian Cowen regrets any offence caused by remarks picked up on the Dáil microphones after Leaders Questions this morning.

Mr Cowen was heard using a profanity in what the spokesman said was a casual exchange between working colleagues that was not a reference to any member of the house.

After angry exchanges over health Mr Cowen had been questioned by Labour’s Eamon Gilmore on price increases and what he said had been the failure of the National Consumer Agency and other bodies to act.

RTÉ News understands that what the Taoiseach said to Ms Coughlan was: ‘We need to get a handle on this, will you ring those f***ers.’

That was a reference to the relevant officials rather than the opposition.

Fine Gael criticised the Taoiseach for using unparliamentary language towards the Opposition, but RTÉ News understands Mr Cowen was not referring to Fine Gael.

The party had just been involved in angry exchanges over health spending.

Fine Gael’s Dan Neville cited the remarks in a statement, claiming Mr Cowen had displayed his intolerance for the difficult questions which his party had been putting to him on health spending.

He claimed the Taoiseach had lost it and his use of the f-word referred to Fine Gael.

A Government spokesman earlier confirmed the microphones had picked up what he said was ‘a private exchange that was not on the Dáil record.’

Cowen threatens Dail hecklers

At one point in the exchanges over health, Mr Cowen told the Fine Gael spokesman on Health, Dr James Reilly, that if the heckling continued, he could arrange that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny would not be heard in the chamber again.

The row erupted after Mr Kenny questioned the Taoiseach about health expenditure.

A charge that Fine Gael had not backed a single initiative aimed at improving health services drew instant howls from Mr Kenny’s front bench.

Dr Reilly was the most vocal, bellowing across the chamber that Mr Cowen was playing the man not the ball.

Amid continued noisy exchanges, the Taoiseach warned that he could organise similar behaviour from his own benches, before bluntly threatening Dr Reilly.

Mr Kenny protested, the Ceann Comhairle intervened and calm was restored.

Bertie Ahern frequently had to endure barracking from the Opposition during Leaders’ Questions, sometimes complaining to the Ceann Comhairle.

But Mr Cowen signalled today he would not be taking it from Fine Gael and Labour, even if he has left himself open to a charge of conduct unbecoming of a Government leader.

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