Noel Whelan: Kenny gaffe over army and ATMs part of pattern of deception

Comment part of strategy to remind voters of how serious crisis was and Fine Gael’s part in turning it around

'The Curious Case of Irish Banks, the Army and a Prime Minister". That was the headline which the international news agency Bloomberg put on its story about what Taoiseach Enda Kenny had to say in Madrid recently.

Giving a keynote speech to a conference of the European People's Party, Kenny spoke of how, after he became Taoiseach in 2011, the governor of the Central Bank, Patrick Honohan, had come into him one day. "The governor told me, it looks like this weekend . . . you'll have to put the Army around the banks and around the ATM machines, and introduce capital controls like they had in Cyprus. "

When his remarks were reported back in Ireland some wondered whether, high on the adulation of Fine Gael's fraternal allies in Europe, the Taoiseach had suffered a rush of blood to the head.

The more cynical speculated that, speaking at a party political event without official Government handlers, he had verbally gone off the rails.


On Wednesday Kenny was forced to acknowledge that Honohan had given him no such specific briefing.

However, this was not a once-off curious incident. What Kenny said in Madrid was misleading but it was not a misspeak. His utterance was no accident. It was part of a cleverly designed but clumsily implemented strategy from Fine Gael to remind voters of how serious the crisis was so as to talk up its part in turning it around.

Kenny has repeated this elaborate anecdote several times in recent months.

On October 20th he said in the Dáil: “I have said it before publicly that the governor of the Central Bank said to me that it was quite likely that in a particular week it could have been necessary to put the Army around automated teller machines and tell people that capital controls would have to be introduced.”


Three weeks ago he told this story at Fine Gael’s annual fundraising dinner, saying “the head of the Central Bank came in on a Wednesday and said ‘I have to tell you, Taoiseach, that it’s probably likely that you will have to put the Army around the ATM machines on Friday’.”

Note the precision about days of the week and the purported quote directly from the governor.

On June 29th at an event in Mayo when asked about the situation in Greece, Kenny spoke of how "pretty shortly after the Government was elected, we were given warnings about difficulties in so far as our economy was concerned and the fact that it might be necessary to restrict capital outflows and indeed have the Army surround ATM machines".

This time last year during a combative interview on Newstalk where the presenter and former Fine Gael minister Ivan Yates had criticised Kenny's leadership, the Minister for Defence, Simon Coveney, spoke of how in 2011 "the Taoiseach was getting briefed by the Central Bank that actually he needed to have a fall-back position whereby the Army might be needed to surround banks to protect them because we could literally run out of money".


So Kenny didn’t happen into this story by accident in Madrid. It was just that his storytelling got more amplification in the media this week because the Dáil was on mid-term break.

Others involved were put in a very awkward position. The Defence Forces press office, usually very proactive in communicating with the public, went all no comment. The Central Bank had nothing to say.

Various Ministers squirmed in response to queries about whether they were aware of warnings from Honohan about the need for the Army to protect ATMs.

Fine Gael is not content to take the credit it deserves for implementing a coherent economic plan and positioning the economy to benefit from the upturn. With an election coming it wants to own all the credit for the turnaround.

In this tale of a Fine Gael-created economic miracle Honohan doesn’t get much of a look-in. The fact that the previous government had already implemented most of the corrective measures in budgets in 2010 and 2011 is ignored.

The impact of very low interest rates, favourable sterling and dollar exchange rates, record low oil prices and quantitative easing get no mention. The role of the people and the hardship they endured gets only passing and perfunctory acknowledgement.

The current Government inherited an economy that had collapsed because of previous mismanagement, including by Fianna Fáil. Kenny's Government came to power at a point when much of the necessary repairs had begun and a repair plan had been put in place.

However, in Kenny’s universe he and his Government are the only superheroes in Ireland’s recovery story.