There is increasing evidence in Dail exchanges that Brian Cowen is prepared to adopt a more aggressive approach to the opposition than Bertie Ahern. Former Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said in 2003 that "asking the (former) Taoiseach Mr Ahern a question is like trying to play handball against a haystack. You hear a dull thud and the ball does not come back to you. It goes all over the world, but it certainly does not come back to the person asking the question". In marked contrast Cowen is more combative.
Prior to assuming the mantle of Taoiseach Cowen had been quite dismissive towards Kenny. In a Dail exchange in February Mr Cowen-then Tanaiste- attempted to belittle Kenny on the issue of Mr Ahern's finances and the Mahon Tribunal when he said "You are neither qualified nor able to evaluate that evidence”. This may yet come back to haunt him. The personalised nature of the comment has energised Kenny.
Political journalists assumed that Cowen as Taoiseach would destroy Kenny in exchanges. This is not what has transpired.
In the Dail yesterday (Tuesday) Enda Kenny raised the HSE announcement last week that it was contacting more than 4,500 patients whose x-rays and CT scans at Our Lady`s Hospital, Navan, and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, might have been misread. Cowen injudiciously attacked Kenny and alleged that he was attempting to make political capital out of the issue. He came off second best in the exchanges.
Today in the Dail a row erupted when Mr Kenny questioned the Taoiseach about health expenditure.
In reply Cowen claimed that Fine Gael had not backed a single initiative aimed at improving health services. This comment drew howls of disapproval from the FG front bench.
Mr Cowen told the Fine Gael spokesman on Health, Dr James Reilly, that if the heckling continued, he could ensure that Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny would not be heard in the chamber again.
This was a bad lapse in judgement.
Mr Cowen was then tackled by Labour leader Eamon Gilmore on price increases and on the alleged failure of the National Consumer Agency and other bodies to act.
The Dail microphones picked up a comment made by the Taoiseach to Tanaiste Mary Coughlan : 'We need to get a handle on this, will you ring those f***ers.'
The use of the F-word although not used in the Dail exchanges was a further embarrassment for the Taoiseach.
All in all a bad week for the Government and for Mr Cowen.