Kenny: We can lead EU out of doldrums

Ireland will seek to move Europe beyond austerity and place renewed emphasis on boosting economic growth when it assumes the presidency of the EU, Enda Kenny has said.

But the European Central Bank would need to break from rigid policies and play a “fuller role” in resolving the eurozone debt crisis, the Taoiseach indicated.

In a speech suffused with religious imagery at Harvard University in Massachusetts, Mr Kenny drew a link between Ireland’s role in spreading Christianity in Europe and the role the country could play in the EU’s economic recovery.

Ireland assumes the rotating EU presidency for the first half of 2013 and Mr Kenny made clear he would be pushing European leaders to widen their focus to growth measures rather than just cutbacks.

Mr Kenny began his speech at the JFK School of Government by paying tribute to the Kennedy family’s legacy and their impact on US and Irish affairs.

But he moved on to the key theme — “reasserting Ireland’s place in the world” — and drew on history to demonstrate the country’s role in global affairs.

In the sixth century, monks had set sail from Ireland to bring “a semi-barbarian Europe” out of the Dark Ages.

“Irish monks like Gall and Columbanus rescued Europe and brought the light of Christianity to a dark continent.”

This “seminal development” in European history should be remembered “at this difficult juncture” for Ireland, the EU, and the world at large.

While Ireland was taking the required measures to recover from “a bleak midwinter”, with economic growth returning last year, Europe had been too slow to respond to the crisis.

The fiscal compact was welcome and necessary, but the EU must move beyond austerity, he said.

The EU presidency gave Ireland “an invaluable opportunity” to make that case and “prove why we still belong at the heart of the decision-making process in Europe”.

“There is now, I believe, a shared understanding that discipline and austerity — necessary as they are — will only take us so far.

“Vital recovery depends on vital growth. And with that growth will come those much needed jobs for our people.”

He said “bigger financial firewalls” were required to resolve the debt crisis and the ECB, as the principal provider of such firewalls, would need to step up to the plate.

As at the end of the Dark Ages, he said Europe and Ireland now stood “on the edge of a new frontier”.

“What’s new can be frightening, but equally, it can be exhilarating.

“Now, Ireland and Europe must leap together into the new, into the next stage of the European process.”

Mr Kenny concludes his three-day visit to the US today. He will meet with British prime minister David Cameron on March 12 for further discussions on how Europe can expand the single market, in a bid to foster more growth.

Fraud claim

Joan Burton, the social protection minister, has defended fraud control measures after claims that most of the savings came from correcting mistakes by her department.

Ms Burton said over €645m had been saved as a result of fraud control measures implemented in 2011, and that her department was hoping to match last year’s figures in 2012.

However, the savings are based on projections of money that would have been paid out in benefits if action had not been taken.

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