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Enda Kenny refuses to comment on claims in Facebook documents

Enda Kenny and Fine Gael have refused to comment on reports that the former Taoiseach told Facebook he would use Ireland's presidency of the EU to lobby member states over data privacy laws.

The explosive claims are from internal Facebook documents and have prompted criticism and concerns about governments having a cosy relationship with the social networking giant.

Previous records have shown how Mr Kenny, who led the government between 2011 and 2017, had a close working relationship with Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.

But the latest report that Mr Kenny allegedly offered to use Ireland's position when hosting the rotating presidency is likely to trigger troubling questions, especially when the government's relationship with major tech companies is already under scrutiny by other EU states.

The Observer newspaper yesterday printed details of the leaked Facebook documents, written after the Davos 2013 economic summit. These sited the company’s “great relationship” with Enda Kenny, one of a number of people it describes as “friends of Facebook”.

The memo notes Mr Kenny’s “appreciation” for Facebook’s decision to locate its HQ in Dublin.

The document says Ireland, in taking on the EU presidency, had the “opportunity to influence the European Data Directive decisions”. Ireland hosted the EU presidency during the first half of 2013.

The Facebook document makes the extraordinary claim that Kenny offered to use the “significant influence” of the EU presidency as a means of lobbying other EU member states “even though technically Ireland is supposed to remain neutral in this role”.

It goes on: “The [Irish] prime minister committed to using their EU presidency to achieve a positive outcome on the directive.”

EU privacy laws came into force last year with the enactment of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This ensures online users must know and understand data that companies, such as Facebook, collect about them and consent to sharing it.

The memo was reportedly contained in court documents as part of a California court case involving Facebook

Mr Kenny could not be contacted by phone, text, email or through his party yesterday. Fine Gael and the Department of Taoiseach refused to comment.

Independent MEP Luke 'Ming' Flanagan called the revelations “extraordinary” and said the “country was totally owned”.

Fianna Fail's business spokesman Billy Kelleher said a government statement was needed.

A government spokesman said: "The Irish government has a good relationship with all major employers and major investors in Ireland. The relationship with Facebook is no more nor less close than with any other large firm."

Previous Freedom of Information documents have revealed how Ms Sandberg personally lobbied the Taoiseach at one-to-one meetings and in correspondence on who would be appointed as Ireland’s next Data Protection Commissioner. This included at meetings in Davos and California.

Over a number of months, the Facebook COO lobbied the then-Taoiseach on taxation and data protection.

Facebook recently promised to create another 1,000 jobs in Ireland this year.