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Sunday 19 November 2017

Kenny will use EU influence 'to repair our reputation'

John Drennan

John Drennan

Enda Kenny and Brian Cowen are to meet next week to discuss how the Fine Gael leader can use his "influence" in Europe to help repair Ireland's status within the European Union.

The Fine Gael leader is the current vice-president of the European People's Party (EPP), which is the largest group of MEPs in the European Parliament.

It is believed that Mr Kenny's plan is to use his contacts among party leaders and prime ministers to argue Ireland's case as Europe takes an unprecedented role and interest in the State's internal affairs.

The leaders of the two largest Irish political parties have been involved in a series of increasingly bitter public exchanges over Fianna Fail's role in the collapse of the Irish economy.

However, the Fine Gael leader "privately" contacted the Taoiseach last Monday and "offered his services" to help remedy the "serious damage that has been done to Ireland's reputation in Europe".

One Fine Gael source told the Sunday Independent that Mr Kenny was "highly respected within the EPP" and that the FG leader was anxious "to use the network he has over there to address issues such as Ireland's damaged credibility and separate us from the European Pigs (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain)".

Mr Kenny's initiative was taken seriously by Mr Cowen, who contacted the FG leader with a "positive response" as early as last Wednesday.

It is believed the leaders of the two main parties could meet as early as next week to discuss how Mr Kenny may use his influential role to best serve Ireland's interests.

In a major speech to the American Chamber of Commerce, Mr Kenny confirmed that he had contacted the Taoiseach.

He said that contact was made "to tell him I am prepared to use my influence in Europe to reaffirm that Ireland will tackle its economic problems".

The Fine Gael leader further added that "he was pleased to announce that the Taoiseach has responded positively . . . and we are to meet in coming days to discuss how the shared objectives can be progressed".

He promised to use his position within the EPP to serve "as a bridge" to Europe "and the leaders and prime ministers amongst that group".

Senior Fine Gael sources were anxious to note that this was "a separate Fine Gael initiative" that had nothing to do with the Green Party's call for talks for an economic consensus.

They said: "We want them (FF) out, make no mistake. But we also have a job in opposition to help the country in whatever way we can."

Though he has signed up to Mr Cowen's invitation to talks about consensus on the economy, Mr Kenny has previously made it clear that he does not support any engagement by Fine Gael in what has been labelled a 'Tallaght Mark II' strategy.

This view was confirmed by a Fine Gael source, who said the Kenny-Cowen initiative was a move "aimed at prioritising the national interest as distinct to giving Fianna Fail a political handout".

"Fine Gael is taking action in a governmental manner to address an existing problem," the source said, adding that this was "a practical example of our confidence that we have the policies and personnel to deal with the crisis when we are in office.

"Fine Gael is seeking office because we can do better for the country but if, in opposition, we can work effectively to address a serious reputational issue created by Fianna Fail, in advance of any election, we will do that."

It was, the source said, "the politics of practical patriotism in action".

Sunday Independent

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