Communications blame game backfires on Lenihan

AN ATTEMPT by Finance Minister Brian Lenihan to deflect blame for his communications’ failures has backfired badly.

It came after he suggested comments by the Government Press Office were an effort to damage him, but admitted he was ultimately responsible for disseminating his department’s message.

The fresh row centred on a comment in December, from the Government Press Secretary Eoghan Ó Neachtain, that the maligned public relations’ material circulated in advance of the IMF bailout was prepared by the Department of Finance.

“It is the first time I learned of it [Mr Ó Neachtain’s comments] in a manner which was being used to damage me quite unnecessarily,” he said.

Afterwards, his department confirmed the briefing documents prepared for ministers and the media the weekend before the bailout had in fact been generated and circulated by finance officials.

Mr Lenihan’s comments came when he was questioned on the issue at a Fianna Fáil election press conference after he sought to criticise Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny for not communicating economic issues through the medium of last night’s TV3 debate.

Last year the public relations effort ahead of the IMF deal split the cabinet, was criticised by ministers, and ultimately led to the Green Party demanding a general election.

Last month Micheál Martin began his heave against Brian Cowen by citing the botched communication’s effort as the “watershed” moment.

But on January 23 Mr Lenihan claimed Mr Martin was a member of Government and the Department of Foreign Affairs had worked with finance officials on the strategy.

Yesterday he said Mr Martin may not have been aware of the issues as he was not at cabinet meetings in the lead up to the IMF bailout for personal reasons.

In December Mr Ó Neachtain responded to cabinet criticism of the communications’ strategy. He pointed to the fact the ministerial briefings were circulated by the Department of Finance.

Following Mr Lenihan’s latest comments the department issued a statement confirming this was the case.

However, questions lingered about the version of events Mr Lenihan expanded on at yesterday’s press conference.

Mr Lenihan said on Sunday, November 14, there were “there were official discussions about the matter, purely preparatory and exploratory”.

However, that evening (November 14) the then Justice Minister Dermot Ahern told RTÉ’s The Week in Politics that talk of any negotiations with the IMF or the EU was “fiction”.

When he was asked if talks, which were not official negotiations were ongoing, Mr Ahern said no. He said any talks were about the euro crisis generally.

“There is nothing going on at the direction of Government in relation to this. I spoke to the Taoiseach this morning. I spoke to the Minister for Finance and absolutely nothing is taking place in this respect,” he said.

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