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Sunday 20 October 2019

President Higgins criticises failures of EU leaders on banking crisis

Fiach Kelly Political Correspondent

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has made his most pointed political statements to date as he criticised the failure of EU leaders to break the link between sovereign and banking debt.

In an interview in the ‘Financial Times’, Mr Higgins also criticised the European Central Bank in comments that push the boundaries of his office.

The President cannot comment on government policy.

Speaking about Irish people’s acceptance of cuts, Mr Higgins also said: “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 Taoiseach Enda Kenny said following through on that promises is a “test of credibility” for the EU.

The Government is also hoping it would pave the way for European funds retrospectively compensating the Irish taxpayer for bailing out the banks.

“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,” Mr Higgins told the ‘Financial Times’.

“It would give you the opportunity to breathe and create growth in the economy.”

He also said Europe faced a “moral crisis” as much as an economic crisis, adding European leaders needed to make up their minds on the type of union they really wanted.

It follows on from his speech to the European Parliament last month when he criticised austerity and the response of EU leaders to the crisis.

“There is a real problem in what was assumed to be a single hegemonic model,” he said.

“The unemployment profile in Greece is different from the unemployment profile in Ireland. You need a pluralism of approaches.”

Junior Foreign Affairs Minister Joe Costello - who was Mr Higgins' director of elections - said he agreed "entirely" with what the President said.

However, Mr Costello said Mr Higgins was criticising European institutions rather than Irish Government policy.

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