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Leaders' Questions

Kenny plays down chances of EU growth deal before referendum

The Taoiseach says next week’s meeting of the European Council probably won’t make any immediate concrete decisions.

THE TAOISEACH has played down the prospect of European Union leaders agreeing a deal to further new growth policies within the EU at next week’s informal meeting of the European Council.

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, Enda Kenny said next week’s summit – called by Council president Herman van Rompuy last week, in a possible olive branch to the new French president Francois Hollande – was likely to serve merely as an opportunity for leaders to exchange ideas.

Van Rompuy will then work on this ideas and present plans for concrete action – possibly in the form of a ‘growth compact’, either in parallel to or as an amendment to the fiscal compact – at the regular meeting of EU leaders planned for June.

“There are different views about the European Investment Bank, the [role of the] ECB, the ESM and the adequacy of the firewalls,” Kenny told Micheál Martin during this afternoon’s Leaders’ Questions.

The Taoiseach added that there was also differences of opinion on precisely Europe should pursue in order to “turn its face towards that [growth] agenda”, but said he hoped today’s talks between Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel would “give belief” to that agenda.

Kenny hinted that he would personally seek changes to the role of the European Investment Bank, which can currently only fund projects in parallel with investment from the individual country.

The Taoiseach said the reported situation in Greece, where €16 billion in EU structural funds cannot be spent because the government cannot contribute any further cash itself, needed addressing.

“There needs to be an understanding of how you might be able to use the overall position of some structural funds not being used, without being seen to take them from any individual countries,” Kenny said.

ECB mandate

Martin had earlier suggested that elaborating on the mandate of the European Central Bank – whose sole stated purpose currently is to manage inflation – so that the Frankfurt-based bank could take a more active role in promoting growth.

Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams challenged the Taoiseach to adopt his proposal for a three-year investment package which would spend €13 billion – sourced from the EIB and from the National Pension Reserve Fund – to invest in infrastructure and new enterprise.

Adams said the proposal would end the current circumstances where nine people were forced to emigrate every hour, telling Kenny he was “out of your depth dealing with these issues at the European Union summit”.

Kenny dismissed the claims, accusing Adams in turn of being an opponent of the European project, who only wished “to get yourself ahead of Fianna Fáil, by hook or by crook.”

“The people in their pragmatism and in their wisdom will pass this Treaty because it gives us confidence in the future,” the Taoiseach said.

Richard Boyd-Barrett from the technical group accused the Taoiseach of deliberately basing the Yes campaign in the referendum on arguments relating to external factors, which he said went directly against Kenny’s earlier insistence that the No side would introduce outside factors into its campaign.

Kenny said this was not true, pointing to opponents of the Treaty, who said it could conflict with Ireland’s stance on corporation tax.

Boyd-Barrett was not impressed with Kenny’s response.

“Well, well, well,” he remarked. “That was a masterclass in political deflection which Bertie Ahern would be proud of. The new Teflon Taoiseach has arrived.”

More: Greece to hold second election after coalition talks are abandoned

Read: EU chief: suggestion of Greek exit is ‘nonsense’ and ‘propaganda’

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