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Lee passed up 'privilege' of place on economic trip

FORMER Fine Gael TD George Lee -- who claimed he had no input into economic policy -- passed up the chance to meet some of the world's top economists with the party leadership.

Mr Lee was due to travel to Paris yesterday as part of a Fine Gael delegation for two days of meetings with leading figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

But he said last night that just because he had been invited to join the travelling party didn't mean he was part of the economic policy team in Fine Gael.

"Last month they went to IBEC," he said. "I didn't go to that. It would make sense that if they were organising that [the OECD trip], they might think 'he's interested in that, we might as well bring him'."

On the day he dropped his resignation bombshell, Mr Lee said: "Here I was in the greatest economic collapse the country had ever seen and nine months had gone by and I had no impact at all. I was completely silent."

But Fine Gael sources last night rubbished Mr Lee's stance and said the OECD visit was an extremely "rare privilege". No such invitation has ever been extended to any opposition party in this country, they added.

Party leader Enda Kenny, finance spokesman Richard Bruton and his deputy, Kieran O'Donnell, and communications spokesman Simon Coveney are spending two days at the OECD headquarters in the French capital.


Enterprise spokesman Leo Varadkar is also attending the two-day session, which began yesterday.

"This trip was arranged weeks ago and George was booked in," a senior official said. "His office was confirming his flight arrangements. It was always intended that he would travel. His was very much part of the team and this showed that."

Mr Kenny was invited to the OECD by its Secretary General, Angel Gurria, who was in Dublin last November to launch the group's 'Economic Survey of Ireland'.

Subjects on the agenda at the Paris meetings include education, tax, the economy, enterprise strategies, green economic policies and public sector reforms.

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Mr Coveney -- who said there would be "obvious consequences" if Enda Kenny's performance didn't improve -- had to catch a later flight to Paris because his diplomatic passport was out of date. After missing the flight from Dublin, he then had to go home to Cork to get his normal passport.

Meanwhile, Lucinda Creighton, the party's Europe spokeswoman, said Enda Kenny needed to show leadership on an internal party issue she had brought to his attention.

Ms Creighton spoke at a five-hour parliamentary party meeting on Wednesday, which was expected to mostly cover the fallout from the George Lee saga. She claimed Mr Kenny had not effectively dealt with a complaint about an internal dispute.

Senior party figures said they were very surprised that Ms Creighton brought the issue up at the meeting. "I'm surprised she brought it up at all, especially in front of everybody at the parliamentary party," one TD said.

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