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Ministers back Higgins on EU comments

CABINET ministers have rowed in behind President Higgins after his latest outspoken comments.

Their support comes after his most pointed political statements to date, in which he criticised the failure of EU leaders to break the link between sovereign and banking debt.

In an interview in the 'Financial Times', the President also criticised the European Central Bank (ECB) in comments that push out the boundaries of his office.

Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said President Higgins's comments on the EU were a reflection of the views of the Government and so were "helpful" to the Coalition.

His Labour colleague, Education Minister Ruairi Quinn, said: "Many people would agree with him (the President) in that we have to rethink the whole economic strategy."

Meanwhile, Fine Gael ministers also insisted that the President was correct. One senior minister said: "He is right about the ECB and the European context. He has made no criticism of domestic policy."


The interview followed on from President Higgins's speech to the European Parliament last month, when he criticised austerity and the response of EU leaders to the crisis.

Sinn Fein's Mary-Lou McDonald tried to bring up his comments in the Dail yesterday but was ruled out of order by Ceann Comhairle Sean Barrett, who told her: "No, no, no, we do not go there with the President."

But Mr Gilmore said Mr Higgins was accurately reflecting the views of Ireland's EU presidency in relation to stability, jobs and growth. He Tanaiste continued: "The President has made a very significant contribution to the debate about where Europe is going."

The Tanaiste said that both he and Taoiseach Enda Kenny had spoken to Mr Higgins on numerous occasions about Ireland's EU presidency, adding that he had last spoken to Mr Higgins on government policy only "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 Mr Kenny said that following through on that promises would be a "test of credibility" for the EU.

The Government is also hoping that that EU commitment may pave the way for European funds to be used to retrospectively compensate the Irish taxpayer for having bailed out the banks here.

The President told the 'Financial Times': "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. It would give the opportunity to breathe and create growth in the economy."

He also said Europe faced a "moral crisis" as much as an economic crisis and that 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," added the President.

shane coleman

Irish Independent