Wednesday 24 January 2018

Taoiseach denies taking a hard line with Athens

Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrives for an EU summit in Brussels on Friday. Photo: AP
Taoiseach Enda Kenny arrives for an EU summit in Brussels on Friday. Photo: AP

Colm Kelpie in Brussels

Taoiseach Enda Kenny has rejected claims the Government is being tough on Greece, suggesting instead it is offering encouragement to the crisis-ridden country.

After a two-day summit of European leaders which was overshadowed by the parlous state of the Greek debt negotiations, Mr Kenny said he had given Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras the "benefit" of his experience from Ireland's bailout.

"What I said to the prime minister and to the (European) Council was that we're one small country that was in a programme a few years ago and I was giving them the story of our experience, of what happened in Ireland," Mr Kenny said.

"It wasn't a case of saying, 'I'm telling you what happened in our case and you have to do the same. I'm giving you the benefit of my experience of the way that our country approached these set of challenges' and the difference it made in such a short time."

Mr Kenny said there was a strong willingness in both the EU institutions and among EU leaders to strike a deal, which he said could result in an extension of Greece's bailout.

The Taoiseach said the summit, which was also due to discuss the migration crisis in Europe and Britain's plans for reform of the EU, was "impacted upon" by the Greek situation.

And he said Greece's creditors - the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund - have demonstrated a willingness to accommodate by promising to consider the latest Greek proposals.

"The instability that all this causes is really impacting on the ordinary people in Greece and is creating serious difficulties for them," Mr Kenny said.

The Taoiseach reiterated what he described as the "great sense of frustration" among finance ministers, who claimed they didn't have the required paperwork from the Greeks.

"That's not being tough on Greece. That's encouraging to Greece, to be able to say we want to help you here," he said. Mr Kenny said Ireland was in favour of debt 'reprofiling' for Greece - essentially extending the terms of the country's loans but not writing them off. But he said this would not arise "for quite some time," with the focus now on securing a deal. Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams accused Mr Kenny of aligning Ireland with "those seeking to persecute the Greek people by imposing brutal, destructive and unsustainable economic measures".

On Britain's renegotiation of its relationship with the EU, Mr Kenny said he told Prime Minister David Cameron that Ireland would not "follow blindly" all the proposals put forward to reform the EU.

The Taoiseach said he did not expect the proposals would require EU treaty change, a move that would require a referendum in Ireland.

"I said in so far as Ireland is concerned, we would be constructive and supportive in terms of the changes that might be made to the European Union in terms of its more effective running and its impact on jobs and growth, but obviously we would not be in a position to follow blindly on everything that he might put forward," he said.

On the migration crisis in Europe, Mr Kenny said Ireland will consider how it can help, even though it has not been obliged to join the EU planned quota scheme for housing migrants.

European leaders argued over how to handle the migrant crisis in the Mediterranean, agreeing a plan to share out the care of those fleeing war and poverty in North Africa and the Middle East.

A voluntary scheme was agreed to take in 60,000 migrants. Mr Kenny said Ireland had taken in 520, mostly Syrian, refugees.

"While, under the treaties, Ireland, Britain and Denmark are in an opt-out position, because we sent the LÉ Eithne, which has now rescued 2,500 people, because of our tradition and our history, we will consider when the position becomes more clear, what it is that we can do to help."

Irish Independent

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