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Lenihan laughs off claims

THE row between Finance Minister Brian Lenihan and David McWilliams over claims in the economist's new book intensified yesterday.

Mr Lenihan revealed he had had a laugh with his officials about Mr McWilliams' claim that he -- the minister -- told McWilliams the officials did not grasp the scale of the financial crisis.

Mr McWilliams, meanwhile, denied asking Mr Lenihan for a job as a special adviser.

In his new book, 'Follow The Money', Mr McWilliams says he was a key figure in the creation of the bank guarantee scheme and talked Mr Lenihan through its set-up over meetings at his home.

But Mr Lenihan laughed off suggestions that he told Mr McWilliams his officials in the Department of Finance didn't get the seriousness of the situation.

"The civil servants took it in very good part. They have been reading David McWilliams for a long time. He did advocate that we leave the euro and he also advocated we should let the banks collapse, so I don't think that they'd be very surprised at anything David McWilliams wrote," he said.

Patent

But Mr McWilliams is standing by his version of events. He said he "never claimed any unique patent on this decision" but the only blueprint for the guarantee was in three newspapers columns he wrote, including one in the Irish Independent.

"This meeting happened. We did discuss the banks. I told him the guarantee was the right way to go as far as I could see. I then published subsequent articles in the papers to back up this and that's what the course of action was," he said.

Mr McWilliams said he disclosed the confidential meetings now as the guarantee has been abused in the past year and people needed to know the chaos of what was going on at the time. "The fact that he was sitting in my kitchen suggests he wasn't that happy with the advice he was getting internally," he said on RTE.

Mr Lenihan said he wasn't going to argue about versions of his discussions with Mr McWilliams or go into detail. He said he was just one of a number of economists arguing for the bank guarantee.

"He's a very forceful personality, very talented individual. He contacted me through my brother, Conor, in fact, and said he wanted to meet me," he said on RTE.

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"But I don't want to get into details and arguments. He's a very forceful personality, he's very talented, he has a lot of ideas and he likes giving you those ideas. But there were many other people sharing ideas with me at that particular time, not just David.

"There were others contacting me and suggesting that we should go in this direction or that direction and quite a few were arguing for a guarantee so I don't think he has a unique patent on the government decision to give the guarantee, but he was arguing for that course of action," he added.

Mr McWilliams, in turn, denies he was looking for a job as Mr Lenihan's special adviser -- a post subsequently given to Dr Alan Ahearne, the economist from NUI Galway.

"Good ideas in Ireland tend to go through three phases and the individuals, the individuals are always undermined, and this is what's happening now with this job idea, which is complete rubbish. The idea that I wanted a job, and that's why I went to Brian Lenihan -- I mean, I don't know where this comes from. I mean I have a job and the job is to tell the truth about the economy," he said.

"When you are in power for so long and you've given out so many jobs to your mates, it does come as a surprise to you that you meet somebody who can't be bought," he added.


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