PERHAPS the stern influence of Angela Merkel is finally rubbing off on Ireland's shakers and movers. Whereas the two previous meetings of the Global Irish Economic Forum (GIEF) in 2009 and 2011 had a bit of a glamorous vibe to them, with all sorts of business bigwigs hobnobbing with starry showbiz types in the luxurious surrounds of Farmleigh, this year's event is a more low-key, workmanlike affair.
This time around there were no Clintons or Geldofs – instead the guest list bristled with entrepreneurs, CEOs of multinationals, founders of tech start-ups, philanthropists and a gaggle of government ministers. On his way into the forum early yesterday morning, the Tanaiste and host of the two-day event was at pains to emphasise that the forum wasn't just a talking-shop but was a serious project to produce job-creation initiatives.
"This is about looking at the plan for post-recession Ireland," he explained, adding that the first forum which took place during the height of the recessionary tempest in 2009 was "a cry for help".
The first day was a mixture of speeches, panel discussions and working groups, but in among the business heads were some colourful characters, including Nora Higgins – chair of the Southwark Irish Pensioners Project in London.
Nora stood on the podium and recounted the story of her own life experience as an emigrant living in Britain in the 1950s. She trained as a nurse in Edinburgh, then moved to London with her fiance and looked for a flat in the city.
"It was really scary seeing the noticeboards saying 'No blacks, No Irish, no dogs'," she said. "I was really shocked to realise that being Irish in London wasn't a good thing. We Irish learned quickly to keep our heads down and not speak on public transport, especially if there had been a bomb in the North."
However, she settled in London and after raising her family she began to work with older Irish emigrants who had fallen on hard times.
"We have a short window of opportunity to ensure that this generation – my generation – the forgotten Irish are not forgotten but are given at the very least a dignified and at best a comfortable retirement," she told the audience.
There was another passionate speech from award-winning author Colum McCann who lives in New York. He argued that it was time to reclaim the word 'patriot'
which he said has become "almost a dirty word".
"I would suggest that we reacquire the word patriot before it is taken and shaped into something that can be worked against the proper direction of where this country wants to go," he said.
But there were moments of levity in among the heavy lifting of job creation. During the afternoon the Finance Minister Michael Noonan and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan took part in a slightly bonkers but enjoyable press conference to announce Limerick as Ireland's first 'City of Culture' for 2014.
There was a reading by an actor of the history behind King John's Castle in Limerick and a mini-showcase of fashion by a local designer.
It was all good fun, and Limerickman Michael Noonan entered into the spirit of things when he rose to speak.
"Our friend the actor when he was reading about King John gave a very good lesson to all politicians. King John's problem was that he had a very bad press office.
"It's the importance of getting your press relations right – for Robin Hood is a hero, but King John is a villain – and he's the same King John who built the castle in Limerick and organised local government in the country for the first time, because it was King John who organised Ireland into 32 counties," he explained. "It's irrecoverable when you get on the wrong side of the press," he added sagely to the media nodding in agreement.
Perhaps that was on the mind of the Taoiseach when he turned up looking a little tired – no doubt after closely monitoring voter turnout across the country.
For by mid-afternoon it was clear that voters were staying away in their droves from the referendums, and that the result could be closer than the polls had suggested.
If the referendum was defeated then, a bit like King John, Emperor Enda could end up on the sharp end of some turbulent press relations himself.