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Sam Smyth: Senior adviser to Taoiseach blamed for controversy

One of Enda Kenny's senior advisers was last night blamed for the plagiarism controversy that erupted after his speech introducing President Barack Obama in Dublin on Monday.

Mr Kenny had spotted the potential for controversy in the final draft written by speechwriter Miriam O'Callaghan, a former journalist who worked for him while the Fine Gael leader was in opposition.

Mr Kenny thought that a reference should be made to the original "Yes we can" speech made by Mr Obama at Grand Park, Chicago, in November 2008. But one of his senior advisers talked him out of acknowledging it, according to a source close to Mr Kenny.

The adviser said it was such a well-known speech that everyone would recognise it and that the man who delivered it in Chicago would be standing beside Mr Kenny as he spoke.

Mr Kenny's instinct was sound; the controversy took away from his passionate delivery of the welcome for the greatest orator in international politics.

However, the public ignored the plagiarism episode and the heartfelt speech boosted his popularity.

It also highlighted the 'West Wing' world of young government advisers, some of whom think the public is as attuned as they are to a virtual world of politics as seen through the US TV series.

And it drew attention to the role of speechwriters in Government Buildings in Dublin -- a secretive process that successive governments have sheltered from the media and the public.

A spokesman for Mr Kenny declined to name the author of Monday's speech, saying it would not be fair to identify individuals on the staff.

However, other sources confirmed that Ms O'Callaghan, a former journalist who is not related to her famous television presenter namesake, wrote the now infamous speech.

But like all his speeches, Mr Kenny laid down the outline of what he wanted to say on Monday evening, the mood he wished to set and the message he wanted to send out.

According to sources, while Ms O'Callaghan usually polishes up the final draft, others contribute to the areas where they have expertise.

After the general election, Andrew McDowell, who wrote most of the Fine Gael manifesto and who has a broad knowledge of economics, moved into the Department of the Taoiseach.

Mr McDowell and another young policy adviser, Paul O'Brien, who also worked for Fine Gael in opposition, contribute to any of Mr Kenny's speeches that touch on their areas of expertise.

Other government departments are also asked to submit material from their specialists if a specific speech requires technical details.

Chief of staff Mark Kennelly vets most of the speeches before they are delivered, but Mr Kenny has the final word on every speech.

It varies according to demands, but Mr Kenny usually makes about six speeches each week.

For instance, yesterday he spoke at the 40th anniversary of Hewlett Packard's arrival in Ireland at their €1bn campus in Leixlip.

The speech, which ran to three pages, praised the company, referred to the visits of Queen Elizabeth and Mr Obama and spoke about the jobs initiative.

Irish Independent