Politics

Thursday 10 July 2014

Coughlan lifts lid on bailout panic

Ministers knew bringing in IMF would end their careers, says ex-Tanaiste

Published 07/12/2013|01:00

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The then Taoiseach Brian Cowen asked Mary Coughlan to consult with ministers in the run-up to the bailout because of the pressure he was under. Frank McGrath

UNDER-PRESSURE Brian Cowen appointed his tanaiste, Mary Coughlan, as his go-between with anxious ministers in the run-up to the infamous bailout.

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Panicked ministers voiced their fears through Ms Coughlan because Mr Cowen and the late Finance Minister Brian Lenihan "couldn't meet everyone".

In her first in-depth interview since losing her Dail seat, Ms Coughlan speaks openly about the intense pressure that was placed on the government by the European Commission and the ECB in the run-up to the bailout.

She claims that the Fianna Fail government "had no choice" but to call in the IMF, adding that the Cabinet acted on the advice of the Central Bank.

And the Donegal politician said that former Taoiseach Brian Cowen appointed her as a go-between with other ministers due to the pressure he was under.

"The Taoiseach wanted everyone to have a chance to offer their opinion and that there would be a big debate about the matter," Ms Coughlan told RTE's Raidio na Gaeltachta.

"My role, because the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance couldn't meet everyone, was to listen to opinions from all the ministers on what they thought we should do."

The claim adds a new dimension to the already extraordinary account of the days leading up to Ireland's bailout in November 2010.

The fact that Mr Cowen felt the need to appoint a conduit between himself and his own ministers reveals the immense pressure he felt.

As speculation mounts that Ms Coughlan is planning a political comeback, she has given her most wide-ranging interview about the dying days of the Fianna Fail government.

She claimed that the government was not aware of the gravity of the looming crisis, particularly in relation to the state of the banking sector.

"I understand that people want someone to blame, but there were lots of people involved, not just one person. It's clear now that the government didn't have all the information about the situation – in particular, the state of the banks. Questions need to be answered.

"We got advice from the Central Bank etc and we had no other choice.

"There was huge pressure on the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance coming from the ECB and the (European) Commission.

"We had no choice but to look for support from the IMF and the Commission," Ms Coughlan said.

The former minister, who gave the interview in Irish, said she knew she was in line to lose her Dail seat as a result of calling in the troika and the IMF.

"We did what we knew needed to be done, we knew we had to make those difficult decisions.

"We also understood the implications for the party, that we would lose seats, including our own, but we were doing the right thing for the State."

Ms Coughlan was one of Mr Cowen's closest confidantes and was appointed as his tanaiste and enterprise minister just months before the bailout.

She remained by his side as the government was accused of steering the country into the economic abyss.

HEATED

Ms Coughlan was one of a number of cabinet ministers who were put on notice on the night on the infamous bank guarantee in 2008 that a decision would have to be reached over the telephone.

As Mr Cowen's predecessor, Bertie Ahern, was embroiled in the Mahon Tribunal controversy, Ms Coughlan refused to endorse his evidence on RTE television.

The move was seen as a final nail in the Ahern era and a major sign of loyalty to Brian Cowen.

The former Donegal South West TD has remained out of the limelight since she lost her seat in February 2011.

Having held the seat for 24 years, she was the most high-profile casualty of Fianna Fail's general election meltdown.

* Aodh Mairtin O Fearraigh's interview with Mary Coughlan will be broadcast on RTE's Raidio na Gaeltachta on December 10 at 11am.

Niall O'Connor

Irish Independent

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