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Kenny risks revolt over latest move to halt trade missons

FINE GAEL is to ground Enterprise Minister Batt O'Keeffe over the next two months by preventing him from taking part in four overseas trade missions.

The move could stop Mr O'Keeffe leading delegations to the US, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

He is also due to travel to Brazil, where around 40 Irish companies are seeking to land contracts ahead of the World Cup there in 2014.

As Labour handed Tanaiste Mary Coughlan her ticket to a Chicago conference today, its party leader Eamon Gilmore accused Fine Gael of "cutting off your nose to spite your face".

Many TDs within Fine Gael are also uncomfortable with the political games -- and now the issue has raised fresh concerns about Enda Kenny's leadership.

However, Mr Kenny is determined to continue with his policy of refusing pairs for ministers.

His spokesperson told the Herald that Mr O'Keeffe's trips would not be sanctioned.

"The minister has ample opportunity when the Dail isn't sitting or is in recess to organise these trips," the spokesperson said.

He said the Government had been abusing the pairing system whereby a Fine Gael deputy would stand down for any Dail votes taken in the absence of a minister.

However, Mr O'Keeffe's spokesperson hit back, saying that Mr Kenny was going to cost Ireland business at a vital stage in our recovery. He said the Saudi Arabia trade mission is being targeted by around 50 companies.

"It's very short-sighted," Mr O'Keeffe's spokesperson told the Herald.

But Fine Gael said: "Ministers have two and a half days a week and 26 weeks a year when the Dail isn't sitting."

The political infighting has already proved hugely embarrassing after Tanaiste Mary Coughlan missed a breaking briefing with enterprise officials in Boston. The trip has been planned for over six months and coincides with a major guidance counsellors' conference. The aim is to sell Ireland as a study destination for wealthy college students.

Mr Kenny did agree to a partial U-turn last night by reneging on an initial threat to restrict Taoiseach Brian Cowen's attendance at the eighth Asia-Europe summit (ASEM) in Brussels next week.


Today, Labour's Eamon Gilmore denied that his party was bailing out the Government, but said Fine Gael "must never lose sight of the necessity" to attract jobs.

"We didn't think it was sensible to stop a minister going on a mission to attract jobs."

He added: "At any time if we feel there are jobs, investment or the interest of the country ... we'll make our own decision on it."

But Mr Gilmore reiterated that it is "crystal clear" that Labour are "not going to put Fianna Fail back into government in any form after the next election".