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Clinton says Government must move urgently on mortgage debt

HE is rightly acknowledged as the US president who made lasting peace in Northern Ireland possible.

And last night, it looked as if Bill Clinton was gearing up to ride to this country's rescue once again with a commitment to lead the drive in the United States for a new wave of foreign direct investment for the whole of Ireland.

Addressing the 300 delegates drawn from the heaviest hitters of our international corporate diaspora at the closing of the Global Irish Economic Forum at Dublin Castle, Mr Clinton called on Ireland to beat the trend where it typically takes five to 10 years for a country to recover from economic collapse.

"Being despairing is not an option, just a decision to be disappointed," Mr Clinton told his audience.

Not that the former US president was unaware of the intense difficulties being faced by ordinary people beyond the walls of Dublin Castle.

Acknowledging the pain being felt by those who had lost their jobs and those now in danger of losing their homes, Mr Clinton welcomed the Government's commitment to address the spiralling problem of mortgage debt -- a problem which he said had to be tackled urgently, so that consumers could be freed up to spend again.

Addressing the specific challenge facing Ireland's younger generation, Mr Clinton expressed his concern for those below a certain age who had never faced what he termed "collective failure".

"Too many young people feel like they are a failure because they never experienced collective failure," he said.

In words to give the Irish people hope, he added: "No one had any doubt (in America) that they could emerge from the Great Depression. JFK would never have been elected if people were gripped with doubt."

He challenged the Government and the Irish people generally to brace themselves for the challenges they would face in restoring Ireland, saying: "In order to win this deal, you've got to put your game face on."

He said there would be "dozens of things" that would have to be done beyond the major macroeconomic decisions of fixing the banking system and dealing with the mortgage debt problem. Mr Clinton said none of this could be done if the Irish chose to be "paralysed by disappointment".

Among those present to hear the former US president's rallying call were Independent News & Media CEO Gavin O'Reilly; billionaire financier Dermot Desmond; Goldman Sachs International chairman Peter Sutherland; British Airways CEO Willie Walsh; Glen Dimplex founder Martin Naughton and the company's chief executive, Sean O'Driscoll.

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Sharing the podium with Mr Clinton and paying even closer attention to his message were Taoiseach Enda Kenny, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, U2 lead singer Bono and one of Irish America's leading figures, public-relations guru and longstanding personal friend of the Clintons, Declan Kelly.

With Mr Clinton's speech concluded, the floor was opened up for discussion and it was there that Bono -- unsurprisingly -- found his voice.

And while he may be known for having a poetic take on things at the best of times, the U2 frontman was all about business as he told those assembled that the ideas Irish people come up with would have to be "really great" as opposed to being just distinctly Irish.

In the lead into yesterday evening's address, the delegates, who had been drawn from the Irish corporate diaspora in 40 countries around the world, had been locked down in discussions, in which ideas to spur the country's recovery were proposed.

Yesterday's proceedings had kicked off on an optimistic note with Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore rowing in behind Taoiseach Enda Kenny's determined message that Ireland would be the first of the three bailed-out countries in the eurozone to return to borrowing on the international markets.

"Ireland is meeting its targets. What we have to do is get investment into this country and get jobs created," Mr Gilmore added, albeit to an audience of longstanding converts to that message.

Discussions during the morning centred on job creation and the role that the global Irish community could play in that task. Also down for discussion at the two-day forum were the future of the IFSC, the potential for the Irish food sector globally, the promotion of Irish tourism, the green economy and the promotion of Ireland's reputation through the international media.

A particularly interesting proposal from one delegate yesterday morning was that the Government should give serious consideration to the creation of the role of a minister for Asia to take on the job of fostering business and cultural links between Ireland and the fast-growing economies of the Far East. This proposal was met with near-unanimous approval.

Such is the realisation that Ireland's future growth will come from the East, as opposed to the United States and Europe, that the forum also saw the announcement of a commitment to have 1,000 Irish graduate students partaking in the Farmleigh Fellowship by 2016.

The fellowship, which was established following the first Global Irish Economic Forum in 2009, allows specially selected Irish graduates to spend three months studying in UCC, followed by nine months in Asia, developing a business-specific project for their sponsoring company.

Among the well-known companies sponsoring the €600,000 programme, which saw its first intake of 23 graduates in January of this year, are brewing giant Diageo, Glanbia, Pfizer, Smurfit Kappa and Abbot Laboratories.

The role of culture in promoting Ireland's image abroad was given prominence too, with a debate involving the country's 'cultural ambassador', actor Gabriel Byrne, author Colm Toibin and comedian Dara O Briain and Arts Minister Jimmy Deenihan and attended by Dermot Desmond and U2 manager Paul McGuinness.

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