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Sunday 24 September 2017

'The nation faces ruin' as our TDs squabble

Moves for an all-party emergency government gather momentum

Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

The gravity of the national crisis has reached such proportions that demands for the formation of an emergency government with all-party support are gathering momentum.

The spectacle of politicians trading in increasingly bitter recrimination in the Dail last week has caused alarm in the most influential circles that partisan party politics is hampering any possibility of staving off economic disaster through exceptional actions.

But the Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny yesterday resisted such moves, calling instead for a general election.

Mr Kenny also denied he had a secret meeting with a senior executive of Anglo Irish Bank, two weeks ago, during which confidential matters relating to the so-called 'golden circle' at the bank was discussed. The Sunday Independent is aware that some of Ireland's most senior industry leaders were last week engaged, meanwhile, in meetings with political figures.

Through intermediaries, these figures have been impressing on all sides that party politics must be left aside, even temporarily, and a united effort be made to rescue the country.

It is understood that even within Government there is a growing realisation that, as one source put it, "something has got to give".

Yesterday, a spokesman for Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan said there was deep concern about the outflow of money from Ireland as a result of serious malpractice, highlighted at Anglo Irish Bank.

An estimate that investors have withdrawn €10bn from the country in the last seven days alone has been acknowledge by Department of Finance sources. "This flight of capital, if it continues, is heading us in the direction of economic insolvency. It is truly frightening," one source said.

Another source close to the Government yesterday told the Sunday Independent: "There would almost be a sense of relief if there was a national government. Every week is Armageddon now."

In relation to Mr Kenny's call for an election, he said: "The Opposition is only focussed on getting into power. They don't realise they will ruin the country if they keep acting like this. A general election will solve nothing. Labour and Fine Gael have totally different approaches. The political wrangling that's going on will ruin the country.

"Fine Gael and Labour should only aspire to power in the current situation as members of a national government," he said.

He added: "An all-party government, drawn from the main parties for a three-year period, with the possibility of extending it, is what is needed.

"A new national government would need some exceptional powers for at least three years to insulate it against the unpopularity of the decisions that have to be made."

Yesterday, at least 100,000 people protested against the handling and effects of the recession, including public sector workers resisting the Government's pension levy. The march through Dublin city centre offered a foretaste of possible social unrest.

Despite the unfolding emergency, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny, in particular, is resisting calls for him to temper his approach -- which last week became increasingly hostile, as he told his deputies that a general election was imminent.

Mr Kenny has launched an astonishing attack on Fianna Fail, seeking to directly link the party to the controversy surrounding the Anglo Irish Bank 'golden circle'.

Mr Kenny is understood to have received information from a senior executive at Anglo Irish last Thursday week, which led him to go so far as to try to associate a Cabinet member or members with the scandal. The Taoiseach has denied any Government involvement, and is deeply unhappy at what he regards as Mr Kenny's blatant "smear" tactics.

Yesterday Mr Kenny said: "Ireland needs a new Government with a new mandate to take the country in a new direction away from the policies and decisions of Fianna Fail-led governments that have brought us to the edge of an economic precipice."

Earlier, in reply to the Sunday Independent, he said he had had a meeting with executives of Anglo Irish Bank before Christmas, but he denied he had a secret meeting two weeks ago with an executive whose identity has been made known to the Sunday Independent. The executive could not be contacted for comment.

However, informed sources close to Anglo Irish Bank are adamant that a private meeting did take place in the environs of Leinster House two weeks ago, in which critical issues relating to the bank were discussed.

The meeting is said to have occurred on Thursday of last week, ostensibly to discuss issues relating to Anglo Irish and Irish Life. It is understood that the conversation broadened onto more general matters at the bank.

On Thursday, Mr Kenny accused Fianna Fail of protecting "powerful and wealthy elites closely connected with Fianna Fail."

Earlier last week, in the Dail, he asked the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen: "Does the Taoiseach know the names of the 10 persons involved? Can he confirm that no member of the Government was involved in any way by encouragement, support or any other activity to facilitate this situation . . ."

He also said: "Can he confirm that no member of his Cabinet was in any way involved in the decisions of a new golden circle? The Galway tent may be gone but its spirit seems to be alive and well." Mr Kenny is believed to be confident that he "has the goods", or is aware of an issue, which he believes will lead to the collapse of the Government in the coming weeks.

But if the Fine Gael leader's dramatic escalation of crisis turns out to be devoid of substance, it could hasten his own departure from the political scene.

Yesterday former Fianna Fail minister Dr Jim McDaid added to the debate.

"We do not have a mandate for what we are doing," he told Newstalk radio. "Perhaps it is time we should call a general election," said the TD for Donegal North East.

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