Kenny breaks protocol to offer support to centrist
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has broken from normal diplomatic protocol to offer support to French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Kenny spoke to the political newcomer by telephone shortly after he delivered his first round victory speech in Paris on Sunday night.
A spokesperson told the Irish Independent that the Taoiseach offered Mr Macron his congratulations and "encouragement for his pro-European platform".
However, they denied this amounted to an official endorsement of the 39-year-old ahead of the final ballot against far-right politician Marine Le Pen on May 7.
The Government has had a long-standing tradition of not commenting on foreign elections, but is understood to be deeply concerned about potential chaos at EU level if Ms Le Pen were to win. She has promised a referendum on EU membership similar to the one which has led to Brexit.
Sources said defeated candidate François Fillon was the preferred candidate in Government Buildings.
He was the nominee of the Republicans, who along with Fine Gael are aligned to the European People's Party. After his defeat, he urged voters to back Mr Macron to prevent an extremist party entering the Élysée Palace.
A source in Dublin said: "This election differs from others because the European project is under threat. There will be no endorsements but the Taoiseach's actions amounted to implicit support for Macron."
Fianna Fáil's foreign affairs spokesman Darragh O'Brien said he had no difficulty with the Taoiseach's action because "the very existence of the EU is at stake".
"We have skin in the game. Commenting is fine. Interfering is another thing," he said. "We have a selfish strategy interest. Should Le Pen be elected, it would sound the death knell for the European project."
Mr O'Brien said France is becoming an increasingly important ally for Ireland in the wake of Brexit. "France is reaching out and wants to be as helpful to us as it can," he said.
He added politicians still need to be conscious that Ms Le Pen received 20pc of the vote and could get 40pc in the run-off.