Monday 18 November 2019

Taoiseach admits to not asking crucial questions

Lise Hand and Fionnan Sheahan

Taoiseach Enda Kenny last night admitted he didn't raise key economic issues with US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Mr Kenny was also embarrassed when it emerged he had lifted a passage of Mr Obama's own celebrated election night speech without crediting the US president.

However more damagingly, despite Mr Obama's offering to "do everything we can to help on the path to recovery", Mr Kenny didn't ask him if the US government had actually blocked an attempt by the previous Irish government to burn €30bn worth of bondholders.

And when he met Mr Cameron last week, he didn't discuss the interest rate on the British loans in the international aid package.

Mr Kenny did not ask President Obama about a claim that US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner vetoed the previous government's attempt to force a €30bn haircut on unguaranteed bondholders.

"No I didn't raise it with him. We discussed a whole range of issues," he said. Mr Kenny said he was not aware of Mr Geithner's view on the bondholders, even though he met with the treasury secretary in Washington in March.

The meeting between Mr Kenny and Mr Obama was upgraded to the status of an official bilateral on Sunday allowing the Taoiseach to raise whatever issue he wanted.

Topics discussed included the economy, Northern Ireland and the Middle East. The discussion covered Ireland's relationship with the United States, and the queen's visit to Ireland .

In his meeting with Mr Cameron, the Taoiseach said he discussed the interest rate on the EU part of the package, but not the British loans.

"The British Treasury have been supportive of Ireland on more than one occasion," he said in the Dail.

The Taoiseach's staff refused last night to say who wrote the speech for Mr Kenny, claiming he was "the chief architect of all his own speeches".

However, it is understood that his long-time speechwriter Miriam O'Callaghan, a namesake of the RTE star, had an involvement in the process.

Mr Kenny claimed the use of Mr Obama's words was a "deliberate and transparent" tribute to the president.

The Taoiseach also agreed he should have attributed a section of his speech to Mr Obama. A Government spokesman last night insisted that the borrowing of the famous intro to President Obama's speech from November 4, 2008, was not plagiarism. "It was deliberate and transparent. The comments were used to pay a tribute to President Obama by using comments he had made before in an appropriate Irish context.


"There was no attempt to conceal the origin of the words -- after all, it was the opening sentences of the US president's most famous speech. It was simply the sin of omission that it wasn't put in context," he said.

The spokesman declined to name any of the writers who worked on Mr Kenny's speeches, but he added that the Taoiseach was "the chief architect of all his own speeches and he's assisted in the process by his immediate staff".

The failure to attribute the opening paragraph to the US president lies at the feet of Mr Kenny. "He was very much aware that it was a line from the speech," his spokesman said.

This was confirmed by the Taoiseach last night, when he was asked if the inclusion of the phrase had been deliberate on his part.

"Absolutely -- I have that speech hanging in my office, the 'Yes We Can' speech from November 4 2008, and because the man was here -- one of the best orators in the world -- a political superstar, that's the way I felt he should be honoured, by delivering his word," Mr Kenny said.

Irish Independent

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