Saturday 24 June 2017

Feel warm and fuzzy? You've just been Billo'ed

BILL Clinton, the Great Communicator, looked momentarily puzzled as he began to speak to the posse of media assembled at the steps of Government Buildings yesterday morning. How could his innocuous remark have sparked such muffled mirth from the row of reporters in front of him? All he had done was apologise for his minor affliction.

"First of all, I said a little too many words yesterday and I'm sort of hoarse," he explained.

Oh dear. Fists were stuffed into mouths, grins and strangled snorts covered by notebooks. The government press secretary silently howled at the sky and Brian 'Congestion' Cowen heroically kept his smile in place.

But for once, the words 'Bill Clinton' and 'innocent' belonged in the same sentence. Even though he is remarkably au fait with the ongoing tragi-comedy that is Irish politics these days, he had evidently missed the unmerciful hullabaloo that erupted here a few weeks ago after the Taoiseach's own spot of tonsil trouble.

But even if Bill had then turned to Brian on the steps and requested a few bars of 'The Lakes Of Pontchartrain' for old times' sake, the Taoiseach probably would have forgiven him.

For the pair had been scheduled to have a sit-down and a chinwag for a polite 20 minutes or so, but when they emerged side-by-side after over an hour, it was clear that the Taoiseach had been Billo'ed.

The Clinton charisma is undiminished. Looking thin but healthy and sporting a vivid green tie, Bill radiated relaxed enjoyment as he strolled out alongside a beaming Taoiseach.

It was supposed to be a brief grip'n'grin for the cameras, but then someone in Government Buildings came to their senses. Why throw away the chance for the Ard-Ri of Mumbo-Jumbo to rub shoulders with the Great Communicator?

And maybe, just maybe, there would be a Flann O'Brien-style exchange of molecules between them, so that by standing near Bill for a spell, our leader would miraculously acquire a soupcon of simple eloquence.

For just a brief while yesterday, Brian put awful Anglo and painful polls aside and hung out like a star-struck teen. He couldn't stop smiling.

"It was a great pleasure to have him on a one-on-one for an hour. It was a wonderful occasion, a very memorable occasion," he enthused, before suggesting that his guest might want to "say a few words".

And up stepped Bill. No notes, no prepared statement, just a masterly demonstration of how to deliver good news and tough news, how to mix realism and optimism and how to hold the attention of your audience. He concisely summed up the Irish dilemma.

"This international financial crisis has dealt you a tough hand, but essentially what happened in Ireland is mirrored in US states like Nevada, where you had really rapid growth and people decided the next five years would be like the last 10," he explained.

"Then, when this international financial crisis started in the United States -- which I apologise for -- there have been a lot of difficult decisions to make."

But Bill being Bill, he couldn't stay downbeat for long.

"I believe that if good choices are made, what made you the fastest-growing country in Europe is still there. All the talents, all the abilities, all the incentives -- they are still there.

"It's a horrible time now but you will get out of it. It will get better, as long as you hang together and keep working on your real problems."

The sun was shining, a mild wind was blowing and everyone was feeling warm and fuzzy from the Billo Effect. And darn if it didn't feel good.

A final firm handshake -- "Thanks Bill," muttered Brian bashfully -- and he was gone.

Then -- mirabile visu -- our taciturn Taoiseach bounced over to talk some more to the press.

Good grief. Maybe there was a Billo-Biffo transfer of molecules. It's not just sore throats that are contagious, you know.

Irish Independent

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