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Thursday 19 January 2017

Maeve Dineen: Lack of grace is undermining Government's good work

Maeve Dineen

Published 23/01/2012 | 05:00

IT is Davos time again. From tomorrow, the Swiss ski resort that sounds like one of Dr Who's enemies will play host to the great and the good. Among those attending this year is Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who will be mixing for the first time with the usual stellar cast of world leaders, global businessmen and politically engaged celebrities who hang out at the World Economic Forum.

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This year, those who have done well out of globalisation will be frightened. They won't quite say it openly, but they fear that the whole financial system is slowly coming asunder.

Looking back over the clippings of Davos meetings from the pre-crisis era is like looking at photos from the Edwardian age before World War One: all those happy young men playing tennis and croquet, unaware that within a few years they would be fighting in squalid, muddy trenches and dying in their millions.

It hasn't come to that yet but here's Bertie Ahern addressing one of his last conferences. Try to guess the date.

"The Irish economy has been transformed from one of high taxation, stagnant growth and mass unemployment in the 1980s, to one of low taxation, sustained economic growth and virtually full employment today," the Bert told the forum before finding time to boast that "ironically, our long history of emigration has ultimately been to our benefit, both in establishing a worldwide community of Irish descendants and, more recently, seeing many of them return, both benefiting from and contributing to the resurgent economy at home".

All that guff came from a speech made just five years ago in 2007.

It is stomach churning to remember how unprepared we were for the crisis that has unfolded since then and how naive we were. It is also perhaps heartening to remember how quickly a nation's fortunes can change for the better as well as for worse.

Just as few of us foresaw the global economic crisis, few of us will see the turnaround when it comes. No matter what the best brains in business claim: inflection points are always hard to spot.

I'm glad Enda Kenny will be in Davos this year. Say what you like about the present Government but at least it has the courage to turn up and fight our corner.

There are not many votes in it but the Taoiseach gets out to sell the Irish story, unlike many of his critics.

A few weeks ago, he was in the Reuters' headquarters in London doing much the same thing for an audience from the City.

And last week, Finance Minister Michael Noonan was in Berlin at the headquarters of Commerzbank following Mr Kenny's lead.

The NTMA top brass are also trotting across Europe and the US to prepare the way for our planned re-entry into the bond markets this year, while our embassies are also pushing the message.

But there is one aspect to the present campaign that leaves me cold: the constant denigration of Greece and Portugal. Mr Noonan was at it again last Thursday when he gloated about how much more Lisbon has to pay to borrow than Dublin.

This is ungracious, stupid and stores up problems for the future.

It is ungracious because nobody likes to see people dance on other people's graves.

It is stupid because Mr Noonan was forgetting that Portugal, unlike Ireland, can actually borrow short-term money. Our costs are theoretical. Let's wait a little until we can actually borrow before jumping up and down.

And it is storing up problems because we will need approval from Greece and Portugal if we re-negotiate the promissory notes. He shouldn't trash some of the greatest countries in Europe.

I will be very interested to see what Mr Kenny has to say in Davos this week. It won't be hard for him to steer clear of Mr Ahern's bombast, but I hope he can steer clear of Mr Noonan's as well.

Irish Independent

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