Sunday 26 March 2017

Maeve Dineen: We need some perspective on our man-made problems

Maeve Dineen

TODAY, more than 300 executives from America's biggest companies, along with venture capitalists and market makers, will listen to some of Ireland's top international business leaders at the 'Business and Finance' Ireland Day at the New York stock exchange.

The conference aims to tell anyone who will listen that 'Ireland Inc' is open for business. New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, Digicel's Denis O'Brien and newly appointed IFSC tsar John Bruton will all be there to try and rehabilitate Ireland's reputation where it matters most -- the United States.

Sitting in the New York sunshine yesterday, ahead of today's meeting, I was reminded just how big that task really is and how many other countries are also in need of help right now.

Like everywhere else this weekend, the main focus in America is on the earthquake and tsunami that has ripped through Japan and left thousands dead and two nuclear reactors in meltdown.

Emergency services from every part of the globe stand ready to help and people everywhere wish they could do something to help.

In north Africa, the courageous rebels who have taken on Muammar Gaddafi's government are also dominating headlines as well as the agenda of the Group of Eight foreign ministers who will be meeting in Paris this week.

War and earthquakes are nature and history's way of telling us the economics and finance are not the only forces that shape our world.

In this context, Ireland's problems are small and not impossible to solve. It would be a farce if, in five years' time, the Middle East is home to several new democracies and Japan has rebuilt the cities destroyed by one of the worst earthquakes on record, but Ireland remains mired in the same fog and confusion that holds the country in its grip right now.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny got his first taste of "real-life" politics in Brussels this week when he fell at the first hurdle in his effort to convince our Franco-German counterparts to lower the interest rate on the €85bn bailout without conceding any major concessions.

That failure, and the repeat failure which will come in 10 days' time at the next summit of European leaders, was tediously predictable and inevitable. Our European allies have to worry about the future of the euro, Portugal's almost certain requirement to follow in Irish and Greek footsteps and the possibility that Spain will also be forced to seek help. We are a very small cog in this wheel and we're low down the list of priorities, even in Europe.

There is a hysteria in Ireland right now that needs to be replaced with a little modesty and a little proportion. We need to stop picking at the scabs forming over our wounds, stop the special pleading, put our heads down and get working.

We are in trouble but our Government has not deployed mercenaries to murder thousands of its citizens. Nor have we lost 10,000 people and seen large parts of our infrastructure destroyed.

Indeed, the disaster that has befallen our own country has left it with better infrastructure than we have ever enjoyed and a higher population than anytime since the Famine. Our problems are man-made and can be solved if we show just a 10th of the courage shown by the Libyans at present and a 10th of the calm and determination shown by the Japanese.

That is why conferences such as the one taking place in the Big Apple today are very important. US investment will be part of the solution to our problems. We need that investment.

In America, they really couldn't care less whether we default on our loans, cut public sector wages in half or abolish Irish after the Junior Certificate. What they want is a stable tax regime, well-educated English-speaking workers, decent schools and hospitals for their employees and well-developed transport links with the rest of Europe. Funnily enough, that's what most ordinary citizens want as well.

Irish Independent

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