Tuesday 16 January 2018

PUNT: When it comes to PR, Ireland is a heavyweight at boxing clever

President Barack Obama with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at a St Patrick’s Day reception at the White House
President Barack Obama with Taoiseach Enda Kenny at a St Patrick’s Day reception at the White House

It was widely reported that US president Barack Obama said Ireland "punches above its weight" during his St Patrick's Day meeting with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, where the two discussed how vital the country's economic success is for the US.

The president also used the phrase to describe Ireland while at Farmleigh during his 2011 Irish visit.

But before we proudly repeat the praise, it should be noted that Mr Obama is a little loose with his use of this particular compliment.

Meeting with Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt early in 2012, the president said: "Danes have punched above their weight in international affairs."

Hosting Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg in October 2011, Mr Obama admitted: "I've said this before but I want to repeat, Norway punches above its weight."

The Netherlands and the Philippines have also enjoyed the same praise from the US president during state visits.

It can't be denied, though, that Ireland certainly is a world leader in one very important aspect: PR.

Our ability to market ourselves around the world is nothing short of phenomenal. The president doesn't take a day out of his schedule to celebrate St George's Day now, does he?

And at least we know that Mr Obama uses this boxing analogy only for those he holds in the highest regard.

Speaking to soldiers at Fort Bragg in December 2011 he praised his lovely wife Michelle and told the troops that, "that's your goal: to marry up. Punch above your weight".

Consumer rights would be best served by full Cabinet ministry

THE National Consumer Agency is a body that people love to hate.

Indeed, the staff were described in very disparaging terms by a former Taoiseach.

"Bring in those people and get a handle on it," the former head of government Brian Cowen instructed the then Tanaiste Mary Coughlan. "You know all those f***ers."

This was back in 2008 when the economy was collapsing and Fine Gael wanted to know what the then Cabinet was doing about huge disparities between prices charged by big British retail stores for the same items in Ireland and the UK.

The agency is back in the news as it has a new chief executive in Karen O'Leary, who has been appointed for five years.

The same agency is due to be merged with the Competition Authority, once Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Minister Richard Bruton gets the legislation – currently being drafted – passed.

Many people who dislike the National Consumer Agency have jumped on the appointment of Ms O'Leary as a reason to engage in bashing it.

But would the country really be a better place without the NCA?

Ms O'Leary is a good operator who has been working hard for years to better inform consumers about financial matters.

Consumer advocates are few and far between in this country. The voluntary body, the Consumers Association, is limping along with support from Mr Bruton's department.

What we need here is a full Cabinet ministry for consumer affairs, instead of the area being one of Mr Bruton's many responsibilities.

Rabbitte is not for turning on broadcast fees in internet age

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Pat Rabbitte has a lot on his plate. His brief is broad and if legislation is eventually passed, it will get broader as his department becomes responsible for media mergers.

But asked if it's right that hard-pressed taxpayers should now be asked to fork out a fee – labelled a "broadcasting charge" – even if they don't own a telly or internet-enabled viewing device, Mr Rabbitte says he believes it's the right thing to do. People are increasingly watching TV over smartphones or tablets and no one needs to own a TV anymore to watch programmes.

That's a headache for broadcasters such as RTE, which already reckons that 15pc of Irish households don't pay their licence fee.

But it's ultimately RTE's own decision to make its content available online.

So why should anyone be forced to pay a fee just because they own a smartphone or tablet? "I think it's fair. I don't think it's popular among a certain sliver of society judging from the email traffic I'm experiencing," said Mr Rabbitte.

Do tell. What kind of emails?

"Emails from people who say I don't have a television and I never effing well watch RTE and you know what you can do with your charge. I believe in society; Margaret Thatcher didn't, but I do. I believe that public sector content has a considerable formative influence on the kind of society that we live in. I'm sceptical about all those people who write to me saying they never watch RTE and they seem to know a great deal more about what's on it than I do."

CRH subsidiary Oldcastle extends its extensive Canadian family

CRH is never one to broadcast most of its acquisitions until it does a half- or full-year wrap-up.

But the Punt notes with interest that CRH's North American subsidiary, Oldcastle, has just acquired a Canadian manufacturer of paving stones, concrete slabs and the likes.

Based in Edmonton, Alberta, Expocrete was owned by private equity player Tricor Pacific Capital. It had bought Expocrete in November 2007 for an undisclosed amount. Expocrete has gushed with the news of its new owner.

"We are very excited to become part of the Oldcastle family which brings the opportunity to better serve our customers and provide our employees with additional career opportunities," said the spin.

"We all look forward to the next phase of our development, from a regional business to a North American business within the Oldcastle family."

CRH already has a presence in Alberta as well as in the provinces of Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. With the Canadian economy having escaped the ravishes of the financial meltdown, the country undoubtedly remains an attractive proposition for CRH. The economy there may only be growing at a rate of about 2pc, but how many countries in Europe would like that right now?

However, a recently published report, 'How Canada Performs', says the country gets a 'D' grade for attracting foreign investment.

Maybe CRH can help turn that around a little.

The man's not for turning, it seems.

Irish Independent

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