Thursday 25 December 2014

Fionnan Sheahan: Obama visit lifted our hearts but it won't cut bailout interest rate

Published 24/05/2011 | 05:00

US First Lady Michelle Obama greeting well-wishers in Moneygall, Co Offaly, during the president's trip to Ireland
US First Lady Michelle Obama greeting well-wishers in Moneygall, Co Offaly, during the president's trip to Ireland

US President Barack Obama's thanked the Government for allowing the use of Shannon Airport for troop movements and pledged to do "everything we can to help" in our economic recovery.

The president's whistle-stop tour of Ireland was an exciting day for a country that has gone through the wringer in the past few years.

His inspiring message of determination in the face of adversity is a worthwhile aspiration to cling to.

Contrasted with the mood of the nation just six months ago when the hard-fought sovereignty was handed over to the IMF and EU, the country badly needed some fond memories to lighten the load.

What better way to break the sense of despair than an international symbol of hope telling you it's possible to make it through?

"And, Ireland, as trying as these times are, I know our future is still as big and as bright as our children expect it to be," he said last night.

After Obama moves on, though, what is the Government left with from the visit?

Certainly, there's a tourism benefit from having the international exposure of the president drinking a pint in an Irish pub and speaking to an ecstatic crowd of 40,000.

And the value of the feelgood factor after such an extensive period of upheaval certainly can't be underestimated.

Obama and his officials realised the use of Shannon Airport for US troop transits does not meet with universal approval in the country.

But the president and his officials appreciate the help and Taoiseach Enda Kenny reiterated that the Government has no intention of changing its policy.

But Obama can't order European Union leaders to reduce the interest rate on the bailout.

Nor can he force through concessions to assist Ireland in the management of the debts of the country's banks.

Indeed, it is claimed that US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner actually vetoed the previous government's attempt to force a €30bn haircut on unguaranteed bondholders at the time the bailout was being negotiated. The failure of the Obama administration to deny this was the case leaves a lingering question mark over the status of our much-vaunted relationship with the US.

Nonetheless, the Coalition feels Obama's mere presence in the country sends out a strong message about the country's economic viability.

Kenny also used his precious opportunity for an audience with Obama to update him on the actions taken by the new Government, including the renegotiation of elements of the IMF-EU deal and the jobs initiative.

The Government's efforts to get the terms of the bailout improved were also discussed.

"The issues of the IMF-EU deal and the way we are working with external partners and the flexibility issue was discussed," a government spokesman said.

The leaders also discussed Northern Ireland, the Middle East, the queen's visit to Ireland and the president's policy on immigration. But the discussions were about "mostly the economic area".

Government officials felt the Taoiseach and Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore hit the right pitch.

"In the influence these guys have with the IMF in particular, it just says we need to listen to these guys. What we would hope out of it is their influence would be more disposed to what we are doing. So that when it comes up in discussions, the Americans can say 'the Irish are doing a good job'," a government source said.

Obama's tone and comments were seen as a positive signal, but it won't solve all our problems in one fell swoop.

The Government feels it is gradually building allies in the bid to cut the bailout interest rate and get on the path to recovery.

Irish Independent

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