| 9.1°C Dublin

Kenny forced to defend ‘mad’ borrowing comments


TAOISEACH Enda Kenny has been forced to defend his comments that Irish people who went "mad" borrowing caused the economy to collapse.

The comments were made at the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland on Thursday as he described how Ireland went from boom to spectacular bust.

But today, before he left the conference, he was forced to respond to criticism of his comments when questioned about how they differed from his state of the nation address in December when he clearly told the electorate that the people were not responsible for the crisis.

“When I was at home I made it quite clear in my state of the nation address that it was not the people’s fault,” he told CNN in an interview.

He added that he was putting the crisis in context when he made the comments on Thursday and there were many other contributing factors like the lack of regulation.

Earlier Minister Phil Hogan and Health Minister James Reilly were among Fine Gael politicians to come out of the traps today in defence of his comments.

His “mad” borrowing comments had already come in for severe criticism from both opposition parties and commentators alike.

Today Minister Phil Hogan said people were over-analysing the comments and need to "get a grip of themselves" as they have been blown out of all proportion.

“The Taoiseach has made it clear that the policies of Fianna Fáil and reckless lending by financial institutions contributed to the madness of developers and people getting caught up in it, causing huge difficulties for ordinary people around the country,” he said.

Health Minister James Reilly also defended Mr Kenny and said he “fully supported” the Taoiseach’s comments.

Businessman Denis O’Brien, who is also at the Davos conference, said Mr Kenny was being honest.

“We need to say, ‘hands up we may have got it wrong’ but the balance of that is that we are the only country in Europe that, after making difficult decisions to fix our economy, will meet our promises,” he said.

“Our Taoiseach is one of the few leaders who have come to Davos and actually been honest,” he said.

Earlier Fianna Fail's John McGuinness, a junior minister in the last government, claimed Mr Kenny was giving mixed messages to two audiences over where the fault for recession lies.

In a pre-recorded interview for RTE, broadcast after his heavily-criticised remarks were aired across Europe, Mr Kenny went on to blame reckless lending by banks, incompetent government, and greedy borrowing for disastrous development.

Despite the later more detailed message, the opposition and social commentators launched stinging attacks and accused the Taoiseach of sending out two messages for two different audiences.

Mr McGuinness said his credibility had been damaged.

"When you are delivering a message like that, whether it is in Dublin or Davis, if you are sincere about the message it will be the same," he said.

"I think the message being delivered by the Taoiseach in terms of what he said in Davos yesterday has damaged his credibility and his message.

"You can't deliver two different messages to the same audience."

The initial remarks, described by Social Justice Ireland campaigner Fr Sean Healy as extraordinarily lopsided, were made at an open discussion at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss Alps.

Both Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein claimed the comments were at odds with the Taoiseach's assessment in a pre-budget address to the nation last month when he said: "Let me say this to you all: you are not responsible for the crisis."

The follow-up broadcast from Davos, broadcast last night on RTE's Prime Time, was recorded before the panel discussion took place.

"I've said that the people here were the victims," the Taoiseach told the broadcaster.

"Our people have been the victims of the situation. We are left with the circumstances of cleaning that up."

Transport Minister Leo Varadkar defended the Taoiseach.

"We can all admit that the moral flaw at the heart of the crisis was greed and some people were greedy, but everyone was not," he said.

"A lot of people just got by on what they had, bought the house they could afford to buy. But at the same time there were other people who borrowed too much, who spent too much and who made foolish investments and we are all paying for the price of that."

Jobs Minister Richard Bruton also went on the air to defend the Taoiseach and Government policy.