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Fury as Kenny halts Coughlan's US trip

MARY Coughlan has hit out at Fine Gael after she was prevented from travelling to the US in a hugely provocative move by the opposition.

Fine Gael has been accused of being "unpatriotic" for blocking the Tanaiste's so-called 'investment and education' mission to the US.

The party has withdrawn its pairing agreement on votes, forcing Ms Coughlan's attendance in the Dail.

The Tanaiste today said it was "embarrassing" for the country that a minister would not be present on the trip.

"It's a missed opportunity and Enterprise Ireland has been working very, very hard to get these new contacts.

"It's slightly embarrassing for the country," she added.

Ms Coughlan said Fine Gael's new strategy is disruptive in that the work of the ministers will be difficult to do.

"It shows you their focus is on being disruptive," she told Morning Ireland.

Fine Gael is also to move the writs for the three outstanding by-elections -- in Waterford, Donegal South-West and Dublin South -- when Dail sessions resume on Wednesday.

With the Government's majority approaching the bare minimum, Fine Gael is seeking to precipitate an early general election.

The party rejected criticism of the move today, with Fine Gael education spokesman Fergus O'Dowd saying what was unpatriotic was putting €25bn into Anglo Irish Bank.

"What is clearly unpatriotic is the Government spending 25,000 million of Irish taxpayers' money [on] a bust bank called Anglo Irish.


"What is unpatriotic is 435,000 signing on for unemployment benefit. What is unpatriotic is 100,000 people emigrating from the country next year," Mr O'Dowd told Morning Ireland.

Under pairing arrangements, TDs from opposing parties agree with one another not to vote in a particular division, giving both deputies the opportunity to be absent.

However, at his party think-in this month, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny signalled a move away from these agreements.

Ms Coughlan, the Minister for Education and Skills, will be the first Cabinet member to face Dail questions.

She cancelled her participation in an Enterprise Ireland 'education mission' to the US because Fine Gael would not provide cover for her absence in votes.

The Government said the cancellation was "particularly embarrassing for Enterprise Ireland".

The purpose of the trip is to promote Ireland as a study destination, it added.

However, Fine Gael defended the tactics, insisting Ms Coughlan had to be accountable.

Mr O'Dowd said Ms Coughlan had to be "personally accountable" to the Dail on issues such as spending at state training agency FAS.

As Education Minister, Ms Coughlan was due to lead the mission to Boston, Chicago and St Louis. She was also scheduled to meet economic investors and business contacts.

Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe said Fine Gael was putting "narrow party interest above the national interest".