Business Irish

Thursday 14 December 2017

Kenny on mission to drum up support for 'fighting Irish'

THOMAS Mann set 'The Magic Mountain', his 1930s masterpiece about the decay of Europe, in the small village of Davos high in the Swiss Alps.

Tomorrow evening, Enda Kenny will join around 50 other heads of state in the same ski resort to speak, listen and network for four days and nights.

Other Irish guests invited this year include former President Mary Robinson and Finance Minister Michael Noonan, fresh from his latest efforts to reach a deal on Irish debt in Brussels.

It is all a long way from Mann's story of inmates in a TB sanatorium, but as the heads of state mingle with one another and some of the world's most powerful business tycoons, many will be conscious that the current political situation bears worrying parallels with the economic instability that ultimately triggered World War Two.

From an Irish perspective, the most interesting event is likely to be Enda Kenny's appearance on stage with various eurozone worthies tomorrow morning.

Mr Kenny made a mess of his 2012 appearance in Davos when he told his audience that everybody in Ireland was to blame for the crisis, weeks after he had said the opposite in an address to the nation.


It was a painful and humiliating lesson for a relatively new Taoiseach, but he learnt a useful lesson: that the world is a small place and he had better devise some sort of version of our recent history that plays as well in Boston and Berlin as Ballycotton.

Mr Kenny has spent much of the past 12 months doing just that – pressing the reset button on the myth that we were the victim of a stab in the back from ex-ECB governor Jean Claude Trichet.

That version of events was only slightly accurate and, perhaps more importantly, far from wise.

It does not do to endlessly bait the people who have saved you.

Mr Kenny has since been working on a considerably more convincing narrative that tries to explain Ireland to a foreign audience in a manner that also resonates back home. This has not been easy and has involved quite a bit of fancy footwork, but it seems to be paying dividends even if the Government struggles to reach a meaningful deal.

By dropping Fine Gael's posturing about burning bond holders and the pretence that we saved our banks for the good of Europe, Mr Kenny has been able to create a new myth.

Celtic version

That myth is a sort of Celtic version of the poem 'Invictus' which portrays Ireland and the Irish as bloodied but unbowed and still the master of her fate. Last November, in Cleveland, Ohio, and in subsequent speeches, Mr Kenny spoke repeatedly of a country that had been beaten to the ground but still picked itself up to fight.

Carefully avoiding the question of who was responsible for the crisis, Mr Kenny played on the cliche of the plucky "fighting Irish" who are now in need of a small boost to crawl over the finish line and exit the bailout.

That pared-back narrative has managed to win support from many influential people and organisations around the globe.

The preferred reading material of Davos man, the 'Financial Times', 'The Economist' and 'Spiegel' have all carried articles and editorials arguing Ireland's case far more effectively than the Government.

While such support is welcome, the Government has yet to translate words into action, notwithstanding this week's agreement in Brussels.

Mr Kenny is unlikely to be able to boast of any change of heart in Berlin, Frankfurt or Helsinki following this week's trip up the Magic Mountain, but he will have moved another step forwards in his relentless efforts to get the backing of as many supporters as possible to Ireland's cause.

Irish Independent

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