FIANNA Fáil has defended Tánaiste Mary Coughlan’s absence from the party’s press conferences on Lisbon, insisting nothing should be read into it.
“I certainly wouldn’t read anything into who is up here on a platform and who isn’t,” Social Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin insisted at the latest Fianna Fáil press conference.
“It’s more about who’s actually out there on the ground getting the message across.”
In the first Lisbon campaign last year, a press conference involving Ms Coughlan turned disastrous after she demonstrated a basic misunderstanding of how the European Commission works.
Ms Coughlan suggested that the larger EU member states had two commissioners apiece when in fact every country has just one.
Subsequent blunders in the Dáil and public appearances have earned the Tánaiste the unfortunate moniker “Calamity Coughlan”. And the deputy leader of the country has been notable by her absence from the Fianna Fáil press conferences organised for the national media during this campaign. While Ms Coughlan has canvassed in a number of counties, and conducted a local press conference in her own Donegal constituency, she has not appeared at any of the principal press conferences held by Fianna Fáil in Dublin.
This is despite the fact that issues for which Ms Coughlan has responsibility as Enterprise Minister – such as jobs, the minimum wage and workers’ rights – have been central to the Lisbon debate thus far.
The national press conferences have been left to the likes of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin, Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, Defence Minister Willie O’Dea and Ms Hanafin, who teamed up with European Affairs Minister Dick Roche for yesterday’s event.
Ms Hanafin insisted the Tánaiste’s absence was not a major issue.
“I think we’re all just busily going about our departmental work and our constituency work, and also actually campaigning on the ground,” she said.
Meanwhile, Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny was last criticised for failing to rule out a third referendum if Lisbon is defeated again next week.
Mr Kenny appeared at the Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs to explain why his party is campaigning for a Yes vote, and was involved in tense exchanges with Sinn Féin senator Pearse Doherty.
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