Taoiseach’s office points finger at finance department over IMF briefing

THE blame game within Government over last week’s botched communications effort has intensified after the Taoiseach’s spokesman said Brian Lenihan’s department was responsible for handling the issue.

Government press secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain said the message regarding the status of discussions with the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund was orchestrated by the Department of Finance.

He said officials at this department were responsible for preparing the briefing notes and the Government Information Service merely relayed the communications it received.

“I communicated the information that was transmitted to me. I do not think there was a lack of information,” he said.

The communications strategy adopted by the Government when it emerged the IMF was preparing to come to Dublin was roundly criticised from inside and outside the coalition.

Transport Minister Noel Dempsey told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland the Cabinet got the message “totally wrong”.

He said when he was asked about the status of negotiations his denial was based off notes he received and these did not tell people the full picture.

“We could not and did not communicate clearly that at official level there was discussions in general about the situation,” he said.

Former minister Willie O’Dea had already said the message put out ahead of the IMF’s arrival into Dublin was “disastrously mismanaged by a total lack of a coherent communications strategy”.

Clare backbencher Timmy Dooley said he was surprised and disappointed by the message spun by the Government when talks with the IMF began.

The Green Party leader John Gormley, in his parting press conference, said people had felt misled by the Government’s communications.

“We were given an official line which was essentially a mixed message, basically along the line that discussions were taking place but not negotiations,” he said.

During Leaders’ Questions Mr Cowen said he was not misleading the people but was responding to statements which were “untrue at the time”, although they became true later in the week.

“I want to make the position clear. Last weekend, I refuted specific reports that were put to me and which were untrue at the time. The first of these was the report that we had applied to join a facility. I felt it was very important to confirm that this was not the case,” he said.

Mr Ó Neachtain said the Taoiseach, when he denied the existence of discussions on a bailout, was working off a briefing document prepared by the Department of Finance.

He said he was not trying to blame the Department of Finance for what happened.

“I didn’t lay any blame on finance I was only answering where did the briefing document come from,” he said.

Mr Ó Neachtain said it was standard practice for each department to prepare the message which fell under their remit and in this case it was the Department of Finance.

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