Mary Coughlan stood to his right and looked to be on the point of tears. John Curran stood to his left wearing the countenance of an undertaker. The man himself was soft around the eyes behind his glasses, hinting that emotion may well have got the better of him in the hours before the announcement.
Just after 2pm yesterday, Brian Cowen walked into the Wellesley Room in the Merrion Hotel to declare that he was resigning as leader of Fianna Fáil. Just seven days ago, he attended another hotel, a stone's throw away, to declare his intention to stand and fight.
He won the battle, but now he was succumbing to the ravages of the war.
He read out a statement in a strong, clear voice, getting quickly to the point.
"At this crucial time, when decisions and choices have to be made by the people about the future of our country, the focus should be on what policies the political parties are offering rather than on the narrow focus of personality politics," he said.
"I am concerned that renewed internal criticism of my leadership of Fianna Fáil is deflecting attention from these important debates.
"Therefore, taking everything into account, and having discussed the matter with my family, I have decided on my own counsel to step down as leader of Fianna Fáil."
As everybody in the room heaving with cameras, reporters and photographers knew, the reality was different. It wasn't his family who told him to go. He was put under severe pressure after his aborted attempt to install six new Fianna Fáil ministers for naked electoral purposes. He had once again either misjudged or ignored the central role that perception plays in politics, and this time it had fatal consequences for his career.
He has now become the fourth Fianna Fáil leader in a row to exit under a cloud, at a time not of their choosing.
None of the others, however, were moved on just seven weeks out from a general election. None were dispatched over fears that somebody else was required to arrest the party's descent into meltdown. None of the others left to a near complete absence of sympathy from the general public, if not the party faithful. It might also be said that none of the others possessed Cowen's innate decency, nor the ferocious bad luck that accompanied his woeful tenure as leader.
The news conference was held in a hotel rather than Government Buildings as this was exclusively a party affair. Cowen confirmed his intention to stay on as Taoiseach. Yet there is little doubt it was this exit that he will feel keenest once the smoke has cleared after the general election. He spoke yesterday of the party's thousands of activists and its history and traditions.
Cowen is a party man to his core, the way few of his recent predecessors were. It is no coincidence that we only saw the best of him when it was his reputation – or the party's – which was at stake.
In response to one question, he referenced Fianna Fáil as "the biggest political organisation in the land". On paper he is correct. In practice, the party has been relegated to fighting it out with Sinn Féin to be the largest small opposition party in the next Dáil.
It was all over in half an hour. He read the statement, took the questions, posed for the cameras. And then he was gone, just less than three years after he was elected to the position to crucial and popular acclaim.
As word rippled across the airways and through cyberland, there was little sign of sympathy among a populace which is struggling with insecurity, straitened coffers, and, for a growing cohort, just trying to stay afloat.
Cowen won't be burdened with financial insecurity. Like the other retiring ministers, he will enjoy a bloated pension. Unlike the majority of his party's TDs, he can also be fortified in the knowledge that the people of Laois-Offaly are unlikely to reject him at the polls. Assuming he runs, of course.
But despite the trajectory of his premiership, despite his shortcomings, his lack of judgement, he is deserving of some sympathy in the hour of his departure. He wasn't equipped with the tools required for modern political leadership, but events, dear boy, events, really ran rings around him.
At a time when there has been practically no accountability for the economic devastation visited on the country, Cowen was targeted for more than his share of the blame.
He was also subjected to a level of personal abuse never previously known to any other political figure. He certainly didn't deserve that.
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