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Eamon Gilmore: President Higgins' outspoken comments on EU policy reflect Government views

TANAISTE Eamon Gilmore says President Higgins’s outspoken comments on EU policies are reflecting the views of the Government – and says they are “helpful” to the Coalition.

Mr Gilmore said there is a debate in Europe at the moment on austerity and the broad approach to the economic crisis.

“The president is reflecting the Irish position in that debate,” Mr Gilmore said in Dublin today.

It came after President Higgins has made his most pointed political statements to date as he criticised the failure of EU leaders to break the link between sovereign and banking debt.

In an interview in the ‘Financial Times’, Mr Higgins also criticised the European Central Bank in comments that push the boundaries of his office.

The President cannot comment on government policy, and the interview followed on from his speech to the European Parliament last month when he criticised austerity and the response of EU leaders to the crisis.

Speaking in Dublin today, Mr Gilmore said: “Both in his speech to the European Parliament and in this interview, has been very accurately reflecting the themes of the Irish presidency (of the EU), which is stability, jobs and growth.

“The President has made a very significant contribution to the debate in Europe, about where Europe is going. I’m very proud of the fact that during the course of the Irish presidency, the President of Ireland made a very clear, keynote address to the European Parliament reflecting very clearly priorities the Government have set for our presidency and the direction we want to see Europe taking.”

He also said he and Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke to Mr Higgins on numerous occasions about the EU presidency.

“Both the Taoiseach and I have discussed our European presidency and our priorities on several occasions with the President,” Mr Gilmore said, adding he had last spoken to Mr Higgins on government policy “a couple of days ago”.

Speaking about Irish people’s acceptance of cuts, Mr Higgins also told the ‘Financial Times’: “The polite version is that we are pragmatists. What we really need now is something that goes beyond outrage and recrimination.”

EU leaders promised to break the link between banking and sovereign debt last June, and Taoiseach Enda Kenny said following through on that promises is a “test of credibility” for the EU.

The Government is also hoping it would pave the way for European funds retrospectively compensating the Irish taxpayer for bailing out the banks.

“It would have been of immense benefit naturally to growth, employment creation and investment if the ... commitment of separating banking debt from sovereign debt had in fact been implemented,” Mr Higgins said.

“It would give you the opportunity to breathe and create growth in the economy.”

He also said Europe faced a “moral crisis” as much as an economic crisis, adding European leaders needed to make up their minds on the type of union they really wanted.

“There is a real problem in what was assumed to be a single hegemonic model,” he said.

“The unemployment profile in Greece is different from the unemployment profile in Ireland. You need a pluralism of approaches.”

Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Costello - who was Mr Higgins' director of elections - said he agreed "entirely" with what the President said.

However, Mr Costello said Mr Higgins was criticising European institutions rather than Irish Government policy.

Online Editors