A number of leading businessmen have told the Sunday Independent that Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte has said that the Government is unable to formulate a plan to deal with the economy such is the speed and ever-changing nature of the crisis.
In an alarmingly frank admission, which was made on condition of confidentiality, Mr Rabbitte is said to have stated that the Government has been pre-occupied with challenges as they arise and has not managed to construct a strategy for recovery in the medium to long term.
Mr Rabbitte asked that his remarks, which were made at a luncheon attended by figures drawn primarily from the energy sector, not be repeated outside of the meeting.
The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources set aside his speech and/or speaking notes at a specially arranged luncheon at the headquarters of Ernst & Young in Dublin on April 11 last, which was attended by around 25 business people.
According to one of those present, Mr Rabbitte said: "The Government don't have a plan. We don't know what we're doing. This is an unprecedented time. Things are moving so fast."
Another said: "I came away with a definite sense that the Government is in reactionary mode. The minister said the Government is 'very reactionary at the moment', that it is 'not dictating policy at all' and that it 'can't plan'."
This source added: "The minister said the Government was not sure day to day, week to week, what might happen, that there were curve balls coming at them all the time.
"He said something about it being difficult to have a plan, that they were in reactive mode all the time, that they were doing what they could in terms of what they were in control of, but that, basically, they were working on the hoof all the time."
Another businessman present said: "He was talking in the spirit of a meeting which was being held in private. He was saying, 'look, we are living in unprecedented times and we are dealing with these challenges as they comes at us'.
"He was saying that, as opposed to saying, 'we have a strategy for the next five years and we know from month to month and year to year what it is we are hoping to achieve'."
Yesterday a spokesman for Mr Rabbitte said: "The minister is happy to confirm that he attended that meeting in Ernst & Young on the date in question. But he flatly denies making any of the comments as suggested."
Mr Rabbitte declined an opportunity offered to paraphrase what he believed it was he had said at the meeting.
Last night the Sunday Independent reported Mr Rabbitte's categoric denial to one of those who had attended. He said: "Ah well, fair enough then, but I can tell you for a fact he said this, verbatim, 'we don't have a plan'. It was off the cuff stuff.
"It's a bit scary at one level, when you think about it, but it was refreshingly honest too. He knew there was no point bullshitting the people in the room."
Another attendee said last night: "If somebody said they recall him saying verbatim, 'we don't have a plan', then I'm not going to deny that's what was said. For my part, I know I heard him say the Government 'can't plan'."
The luncheon took place in the boardroom of Ernst & Young on Wednesday, April 11, last. It got under way at 12.30pm and continued until 3pm. It was hosted by Tony Spollen, the former AIB auditor, now of Ernst & Young.
Mr Rabbitte took notes while guests spoke and then he replied towards the end of the lunch, making a point to set aside what was said to be either his prepared speech or speaking notes.
The Sunday Independent has established that, among others, the meeting was attended by representatives of Bord Gais; ESB; Coillte; Bord na Mona; An Post; Eirtricity; Irish Wind Energy Association; Retail Ireland; Mason Hayes Curran solicitors; a Canadian diplomat was also present, as was a representative of the New Zealand and New South Wales Lotto.
Guests were invited to "talk freely" and in "full confidence that what was said in the room stays in the room", one source said. Another source added that Mr Rabbitte invoked the "Chatham House Rule", which governs the confidentiality of the source of information received at a meeting.
Almost all of the speakers asked Mr Rabbitte if there was anything the Government could do to bring an end to what they felt was a continuous cycle of negative media coverage, particularly in national newspapers.
Mr Rabbitte is said to have replied that newspaper editors had been "called in" but that they had explained that they, too, were under business pressures. He is said to have remarked: "The more you try to influence them the worse they get."
Mr Rabbitte also assured those present that the coalition partners were on good working terms and that the Government was working in a "cohesive fashion".