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Sunday 17 December 2017

I do not have my brother's ear, admits Lenihan junior

Conor in axeman gripe over funding

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

FINANCE Minister Brian Lenihan was at the centre of a political -- and family -- row last night after his own brother attacked his policies on the much heralded 'smart economy'.

Conor Lenihan, the junior minister in charge of innovation, also said his sibling has a "lovely axe" which he "sometimes wields indiscriminately".

In a speech to academics and researchers, he accused his brother's Department of Finance of not understanding the link between spending on research and development and economic recovery.

Conor Lenihan called for help to prise more funding for the smart economy from the Finance Minister, but he also cautioned those at the Enterprise Ireland forum, adding: "Just because he's my brother doesn't mean he necessarily listens to me."

A spokesman for the Finance Minister refused to respond to Conor Lenihan's latest controversial remarks last night.


Attempting to defuse his earlier remarks, the gaffe-prone minister himself last night insisted he was not attacking the Department of Finance as a whole. But he said the department "sometimes" did not link how funding the smart economy could spark economic recovery.

He also described the comments about his brother as "jocose".

The embarrassing "axe" remarks were made in an earlier address to around 250 academics and researchers at the Enterprise Ireland applied research forum in Dublin yesterday morning.

Even though Conor Lenihan attempted to play down the gaffe, the remarks will cause embarrassment in government circles and raise questions about the junior minister's judgment. Brian Lenihan also said he had not been in touch with his brother after he made the remarks.

In his speech Conor Lenihan said he didn't believe a smart economy was possible without dedicated funding.

"I don't believe we can have a smart economy without having an embedded investment in research and technology so I hope you join me and support me in attempting to convince the Minister for Finance and the rest of the Government," he said.

And to laughter, he added: "Just because he's my brother doesn't mean he necessarily listens to me.

"The Minister for Finance has a lovely axe in his office and he seems to use it indiscriminately from time to time and I need your support as we move into this period of consolidation.

"Clearly, we have to take more money out of public spending this year. It's not going to be easy, precisely because of the turbulence we've seen in the eurozone. We thought it was going to be easier this year than last year but it's going to be harder. As I say, sometimes, sometimes, the people across in the Department of Finance don't get the connection ... sometimes, and it is only sometimes, the Department of Finance doesn't make the link."

Conor Lenihan claimed there was already enough spending on the smart economy but said it should be "increased incrementally" if the Government was to reach its ambitions for research and development.

The outburst is the latest in a line of gaffes for Conor Lenihan, who previously fell asleep during a telephone interview on TV3.

He also saluted Fine Gael's Leo Varadkar with an alleged fascist salute across the Dail chamber, although he said he was waving at Mr Varadkar.

His worst gaffe occurred during a Dail debate in May 2005, when he told former Socialist TD Joe Higgins, who had campaigned on behalf of Turkish workers, to "stick to the kebabs".

The reference was taken to be to the Turkish workers whose exploitation Mr Higgins had highlighted.

Irish Independent

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