Ex-Fianna Fáil minister and MEP election candidate Conor Lenihan has rejected claims that his close Russian business ties risk making him Ireland’s answer to Donald Trump, saying he has nothing to “hide” over his post-Dáil work.
Mr Lenihan dismissed suggestions that his MEP seat bid could be open to the claims, joking he does not have the same wealth as Mr Trump and is “more polite” than the US president.
At the official launch of his campaign to become Fianna Fáil’s Dublin candidate, Mr Lenihan said he understands the public interest in his Russian work since losing his Dáil seat in 2011.
However, during a launch where he also criticised Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s hardline Brexit tactics and defended his ministerial record, Mr Lenihan emphasised that he has been completely transparent over his Russian work — and insists his business experience will be of benefit as an MEP.
“I’ll avoid any analogy or comparison with Trump because Trump I am not. First of all I don’t have his money and secondly I think I’m a bit more polite with people than he is,” Mr Lenihan joked.
“Do I have anything to hide or worry about in terms of my work in Russia? Absolutely not. I worked in a professional capacity there. I in no way depend or owe any due obligation or otherwise to the Russian state other than a nice thank you to those who hired me,” he said.
Three months after the 2011 general election, Mr Lenihan took up a vice-president role with the Moscow-based innovation and tech hub the Skolkovo Foundation where he remained until 2014.
Mr Lenihan said he is “not an apologist” for Russian president Vladimir Putin and that he believes Russia may have influenced the 2016 US presidential election.
Asked if the European parliament is a “retirement home” for former TDs, he said he is “not a retired politician, I’m a recovering one” who has been “off the political sauce since 2011”.
Mr Lenihan said his business experience is crucial for what Ireland needs in Brussels. While saying he does not want to be too critical of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s tough stance against Britain over Brexit, Mr Lenihan said Ireland should consider stretching out “an olive branch” to London due to both countries’ close business links.
Mr Lenihan also criticised any party that fails to reach its candidates gender quota, and said he welcomes more women entering politics.
He championed ex-tánaiste Mary Harney as a prime example of a woman who was “well able to mix it with men, she wasn’t running around saying ‘I’m being bullied’ or a victim, she was in there giving everything”, before quickly clarifying: “No, no, god, I don’t want to be misrepresented. What I’m saying is she got stuck into the Dáil and competed on the same basis.”