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The Tweet Heard 'Round Ireland

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, September 16 2010

Photo of Simon Coveney by Anthony Patterson

The Irish political world has been roiled, it seems, but a tweet posted by Fine Gael official Simon Coveney in which he described a radio interview performance by Taoiseach Brian Cowen as one in which Cowen sounded "sounded half way between drunk and hungover."

What, not familiar with the nuances of Irish politics? Okay, okay. Fine Gael is one of the country's biggest political parties, "Taoiseach" is the honorific given to Ireland's head of state, and drunk is...well, you know what drunk is.

Coveney has but 1,300 followers, but his tweet seems to have been heard around Ireland -- and tapped into simmering unease with Cowen's leadership. Cowen was forced to apologize for the interview, but said he was not drunk, merely hoarse. Cowen blasted Coveney, though not by name, saying, "I just want to make it very clear there was no basis for the assertions that were made by political opponents about it." Coveney responded, on Twitter, that criticisms of his criticism was unwarranted, tweeting, "Seems like offering an honest comment on taoiseachs interview is now being described as a new low in politics."

(Here's audio of the Cowen radio interview that started the affair.)

The whole thing seems to have been quite a dramatic moment for all involved, forcing Cabinet officials into expressing confidence in Cowen's leadership. "We clearly have to learn lessons from the entire event," Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin told the Irish Times, "and now move on."