Friday 24 November 2017

Eamon calls first dibs on travelling to Oslo for award

Well. There was Ireland, fresh from winning a piece of the peace award, and one member of its govern-ment was busily dropping F-bombs around a room stuffed with European politicians.

To be fair, Ruairi Quinn was recounting a tale from the rocky birth of the euro while he was finance minister in the late 1990s, when a presentation to European finance ministers on the design of the new banknote was distinctly short of good vibrations, due to the volatile mood of German's finance minister Theo Waigel -- also known as 'the father of the euro'.

"The Greek minister for finance asked would the banknotes have the spelling of the euro in the Greek alphabet as well as the Latin alphabet," recalled Ruairi.

"And at that stage Theo Waigel exploded and he said more or less the following with a degree of Joycean licence -- 'For f**ksake, I'm having enough trouble trying to sell this to Germans who love the deutschemark, and you want them now to put funny lettering on it? And anyway, it's irrelevant, because you're never going to f**king qualify'."

The room rocked with laughter. No smelling salts required by the gathering of centre-left politicians from across Europe. After all, they were in Dublin, and everyone knows the Irish are a potty-mouthed people -- including, it transpired -- their Minister for Education.

It was a rare enough moment of levity in what was a serious-minded Progressive Governance Conference hosted by the Labour Party and attended by their ideological brethren from various countries including France, Germany, the UK, Holland and Norway.

The day-long talking-shop was opened by the Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore, who told the assembly, that "despite the perception that's out there, commitment to fiscal discipline is not a centre-right idea. If we believe in having good public services, want good schools and hospitals, want to seek growth in our economies and create more and better jobs, then we cannot hand over our destiny to financial markets."

There was a thoughtful discussion on the euro crisis, moderated by former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson. Among the panellists was the UK's shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, who used a somewhat Toryesque analogy of going off-piste skiing to explain how the eurozone had rushed to embrace the single currency without thinking through potential pitfalls.

"You decide as a group of people to go off-piste skiing, it's really dangerous and you've never done it before."

About an hour into the discussion, Hannes Swoboda, the head of the Socialists group in the European Parliament, broke the news that the EU had been awarded the Nobel peace prize.

The breaking news was met with bemused silence, until Peter Mandelson began to ponder aloud just who would be flying to Oslo on December 10 to pick up the prize.

"Will it be the Irish Presidency? Or President of the Commission? Or Mr Van Rompuy?" he wondered.

Well, our Foreign Affairs Minister is up for the job.

"Oh, I'm always willing to travel to Oslo," Eamon laughed, but prudently added, "but I think those arrangements are matters that have to be decided over time."

Enda must be cursing his luck that he was out of the country when the news broke, giving Eamon Gilmore first dibs on the Nobel gong.

But no Ruairi-style effs from the Taoiseach, one assumes. That's a most unpeaceful vibe.

Irish Independent

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