TAOISEACH Brian Cowen defended the €1 million golden handshake for former Fás boss Rody Molloy last night as two senior ministers squabbled over who was responsible for sanctioning the deal.
Meanwhile, coalition partners the Greens desperately sought to distance themselves from the whole controversy.
Mr Cowen insisted that Mr Molloy had acted “honourably” by resigning and defended Tánaiste and Enterprise Minister Mary Coughlan amid calls for her own resignation.
The Department of Enterprise made clear that Finance Minister Brian Lenihan had been consulted and had given his consent to the deal.
But the Department of Finance immediately fired back, saying Ms Coughlan’s department had “made the running” on the severance package and Mr Lenihan had merely signed off on it.
Green leader John Gormley said neither he nor his party colleague, Communications Minister Eamon Ryan, had been aware of the terms of the deal. Mr Gormley stressed that the issue had not been brought to cabinet.
He expressed his confidence in Ms Coughlan, however, as did Mr Cowen, who confirmed he had been aware of the deal at the time but said it was “in line with guidelines”.
Mr Cowen also reiterated his view that Mr Molloy had acted honourably by resigning – despite the revelation that the former Fás boss threatened legal action if he did not receive a golden handshake.
But Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said he did not accept the Taoiseach’s view that Mr Molloy had acted honourably. Mr Kenny also called on Ms Coughlan to “tell the full truth” about the deal, saying he found it “incredible” that the Tánaiste had not sought legal advice when Mr Molloy insisted on the golden handshake.
Ms Coughlan announced yesterday that her department would now seek legal advice to see if the terms of the deal could be revisited.
But Labour TD Róisín Shortall said this was a case of “trying to bolt the stable door long after the horse has bolted”, adding: “I find it very difficult to see how Mary Coughlan really can continue in the position that she’s in.”
Sinn Féin called on Ms Coughlan to resign over the “sordid” deal.
It wasn’t just opposition TDs who were critical, however. Fianna Fáil TD Micheal McGrath suggested the Tánaiste had displayed “poor judgment” by agreeing to the deal without legal advice. “They should have called his bluff – shown some neck and shown him the door,” Mr McGrath said of Mr Molloy.
Mr Molloy resigned yesterday as chairman of the partly state-funded Institute of Public Administration.
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