TAOISEACH Enda Kenny last night claimed his controversial comments that "mad borrowing" by Irish people caused the economic crash were taken out of context -- as a string of cabinet ministers rushed to defend him.
r Kenny was eventually forced to clarify his comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos by American broadcasters after the highly unusual move of refusing to speak to Irish reporters covering the prestigious event.
Mr Kenny said he had already made it clear in last month's state of the nation that "it was not the people's fault". In December's address, Mr Kenny told Irish people: "You are not responsible for this crisis."
On Thursday, Mr Kenny said Ireland's personal wealth during the boom was created "totally on credit" and "was done between people, banks and a system that spawned greed to a point where this went out of control completely with a spectacular crash".
Last night, the Taoiseach said his comments at a Davos forum were placed in context with other factors that caused the crash.
"On a panel discussion with the Danish prime minister and the Finnish prime minister, I set in context what happened in Ireland," Mr Kenny told CNN.
"We had very poor regulation, we had incompetent government, we had a system in the banking regime that paid big bonuses on volume lending that meant that developers -- in the sense of buying and proposing schemes that could never be paid for by people -- brought our country over the edge. And I set that in context very clearly."
Environment Minister Phil Hogan, Health Minister James Reilly, Jobs Minister Richard Bruton, Transport Minster Leo Varadkar, Social Protection Minster Joan Burton and Education Minister Ruairi Quinn all defended Mr Kenny and said his comments had been blown out of proportion.
Mr Hogan said: "People who have been parsing and analysing pronouns should get a grip of themselves", while Dr Reilly said there was "absolutely no doubt" people had been encouraged to borrow by reckless lenders in banks.
Ms Burton said Mr Kenny "was instancing the people involved in development" and said he was referring to how "a circle of no more than a couple of thousand people led the bubble".
"Was everybody in Ireland to blame? Absolutely not, as the Taoiseach said when he spoke to the nation," she added.
Mr Quinn said there was no difference in Mr Kenny's message in his state of the nation and in the Davos discussion, and said the crash was "driven by greed and reckless lending and we all know by who".
Mr Bruton said "the Taoiseach has made clear time and again that ordinary people are not to blame".
Irish businessman Denis O'Brien, also attending the Davos conference, also defended the Taoiseach's remarks. He said that while they were important, Mr Kenny's presence in Davos was more significant -- and created a "buzz about Ireland".
"He should be applauded not in any way criticised," Mr O'Brien said. "We are the only country in Europe that, after making difficult decisions to fix our economy, will meet our promises."
Analysis: Pages 28&29 Business