The pair both effectively accused the other of lying as they disputed events surrounding a bizarre late night meeting at McWilliams’ home at the height of the global financial crisis.
Economist Mr McWilliams insists a dishevelled-looking Finance Minister turned up at his house desperate for advice on how to handle the unravelling international crisis.
Mr Lenihan chomped on raw garlic as he fought off the amorous attentions of Mr McWilliams’ labrador puppy, Sasha, while receiving a master class in banking, according to the economist.
The RTÉ presenter claims Mr Lenihan seemed scared his officials would find out about the meeting and was disparaging about the advice he was getting at the Department of Finance, saying of his team of experts: “They just don’t get it, we don’t have much time.”
Mr McWilliams said that the Finance Minister looked as if he had slept in his suit and had told him that eating raw garlic gave him strength and kept him healthy and alert.
Mr McWilliams, who is promoting a new book, says he told the Finance Minister to bring in the bank guarantee scheme and was pleased Mr Lenihan could “pick things up quickly”.
Deeply embarrassed by the “Garlic-gate” claims, the Finance Minister strongly denied McWilliams’ version of events as allegations surfaced the economist had “pestered” him for a job as a special adviser.
Mr McWilliams denied he wanted to work for Mr Lenihan, stating grandly that he already had a job – “telling the truth about the Irish economy”.
Mr Lenihan admitted the late night meeting had occurred in September of last year, but insisted it was at the request of Mr McWilliams, who the minister claims is “very forceful”.
Refusing to be drawn on specifics, he denied rubbishing his officials at the meeting, which he said had occurred because he “happened” to be in the area. “I’m not going to argue about versions, he’s a very forceful personality.
“He contacted me through my brother, Conor, and said he wanted to meet me and I happened to be meeting another friend in that part of the city that evening who lived further up the road.
“I arranged to meet him and then to my subsequent appointment. We had a discussion about the economy, but I don’t want to get into details and arguments.
“He has a lot of ideas and he likes giving them to you and that’s what he did,” the minister told RTÉ.
A source close to Mr Lenihan told the Irish Examiner: “It’s true he does like eating garlic, but he doesn’t chew it like gum – it’s good for the blood, apparently.”
Mr McWilliams said Fianna Fáil had launched a dirty tricks operation against him. “The idea I wanted a job is rubbish.
“The fact he was sitting in my kitchen suggests he wasn’t too happy with the official advice he was getting,” the economist said.
Defence Minister Willie O’Dea waded into the row to support his Cabinet colleague.
“As far as I am concerned the affair between David McWilliams and David McWilliams will endure as one of the great love stories of all time,” he said.