Republic turns to old ally for aid and moral support in hour of need


ANALYSIS:OPPOSITION PARTIES got the scent of blood after German chancellor Angela Merkel’s apparent rebuff to the Government on bank-debt relief.

The Dáil will be a focus of national attention tomorrow at Leader’s Questions when the Opposition finally gets a chance to hold the Government to account over Merkel’s comments following last week’s European Union summit.

Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin are champing at the bit, especially the Soldiers of Destiny. FF leader Micheál Martin has already gone for the jugular with his allegation that the Taoiseach has, in effect, been asleep at the wheel since the previous June summit.

Martin’s charge is that Kenny should have been on the phone and in the air, flying to Berlin to deploy his Mayo charm and powers of persuasion in lobbying Frau Merkel for an easing of our bank debt.

Opposition parties never understate their case and Martin has painted a picture of the Taoiseach as a negligent, almost somnolent figure, airily leaving the crunch issue of our legacy bank debt to officials while moving from one photo opportunity to the next.

Sinn Féin is as always happy to join in an attack on the Fine Gael-Labour Coalition, with Gerry Adams arguing that it was not a case of neglect, more a complete lack of strategy on the issue.

The Fianna Fáil charge is a particularly wounding one and Government figures have responded in kind.

Minister for Communications Pat Rabbitte accused Martin of “wishing to do down the country because he thinks he might score a point on the Taoiseach”.

Minister of State for Finance Brian Hayes has decried “the complete opportunism of the Opposition, and particularly Fianna Fáil”.

Opposition and opportunism tend to be synonymous at times (maybe all the time) and Fianna Fáil certainly seized its chance when news of Merkel’s apparent rejection of legacy bank debt relief came through last Friday.

Martin was out with the media on the plinth at Leinster House almost immediately, taking advantage of Kenny’s discomfort and clearly energised by the four-point improvement in Fianna Fáil’s standing to second place in the latest Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll on the state of the political parties.

As so often in the past, in times of difficulty this Republic turns to the French for aid and moral support.

On this occasion it is not their ships “in the bay” that we seek but their support at the summit table.

The Taoiseach will be able to respond to his Opposition critics tomorrow by telling them about his hour-long meeting with French president François Hollande at the Élysée Palace this afternoon.

Much as we might like to think so, the leaders of major EU governments such as France and Germany do not wake in the morning with the Republic’s welfare as the first thought on their minds. But the French and the Irish have worked well together in Europe over the years.

“They are very empathetic to our difficulty,” said one highly placed official source last night.

The former Merkozy (Merkel and Sarkozy) connection no longer exists and this State is looking to the French as an ally in its efforts to lighten the debt burden.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, another well-placed Government source suggested that it was the combined influence of France, Italy and Spain that persuaded Merkel to sign-off on the June 29th European Council statement on the banks, which Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore described as a “game-changer”.

“She only conceded at the last minute when they were saying that they wouldn’t sign-off on the European Stability Mechanism itself unless the issue of bank debt was included,” continued the source.

The same source said it was hard to see how growth could be fostered at European level unless there were some collective moves on bank recapitalisation, but that Merkel’s stance had to be seen against the background of the elections to the Bundestag next autumn.

This looming day of destiny on the German political scene was making the Republic’s attempt to secure debt relief “problematic”, but it was “likely that you will have a deal on the promissory note well in advance of that”.

The source repeated a point that was made constantly in the course of the Northern Ireland peace process: “The devil is in the detail.”

The Taoiseach spoke by telephone with Merkel last evening and he needs to secure a meeting with her to show that their political relationship is on a sound footing.

He might remind her that his Coalition does not enjoy the luxury of the position set out by playwright Bertolt Brecht after the failed East German uprising of 1953: “The government has lost the confidence of the people; so it is necessary to elect a new people.”

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