Belfast Telegraph

I did not mislead public on Ireland bailout talks, says Irish PM Brian Cowen

By Fionnan Sheahan and Patricia McDonagh

Taoiseach Brian Cowen last night dismissed claims he had misled the Irish public on bailout talks as he struggled to contain a growing backlash on his handling of the crisis.

Tensions rose within the Coalition last night with both Green Party and Fianna Fail backbenchers critical of the Government's public comments on the bailout.

The Greens have remained quiet over the past five days as their Fianna Fail counterparts denied the Government was engaged in any talks on a bailout.

Mr Cowen resorted to shooting the messenger and blaming the media as the Irish government's credibility came under fire.

After blaming the international media earlier in the week, he turned on the domestic media, claiming organisations were trying "to suggest there is something problematic here".

Mr Cowen insisted he was levelling with the people and protecting the country's interests as discussions continued.

"We haven't started any negotiations. I want to get away from this word game," he said.

But Fianna Fail TD Sean Power said last night the Coalition could not continue to treat the electorate "like fools".

"Last week was a poor one for this Government. We failed our people, treating them as if they could not understand the complexities of the financial situation that we are in," he said.

"We engaged in a game of semantics, where we started trying to play a cute game about words, what they meant or might mean, instead of using the opportunity that was presented to us," he said.

A senior Green Party figure said the basis for being in government was made "much more difficult" by the affair.

Following days of Fianna Fail making spurious claims that reports of the talks were "fiction", Green Party chairman Dan Boyle has indicated there was a breach of trust.

"There is a questioning of trust and an adding to uncertainty that is making the basis for being in government much more difficult," Mr Boyle said.

He subsequently watered down his comments, but it is understood elements within the Greens were not happy with the Government's consistent denials of any talks.

Despite a high-level delegation arriving today, Mr Cowen insisted again yesterday there is no question of the government being involved in discussions on a bailout.

Mr Cowen said "pejorative terms" like 'bailout' did not help the situation.

He said Ireland was working with its European partners on issues that were affecting the euro area and the Ireland.

Mr Cowen confirmed officials from the Irish Department of Finance, the Central Bank and the NTMA would be involved in talks with the European Commission, European Central Bank and the IMF.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said the banking policy of the Government had been a "catastrophic failure".

He said the Europeans and IMF were not coming to say "Hello, keep at it, Brian", and the arrival of the delegation would bring a set of strict conditions.

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