FORMER US President Bill Clinton last night told the Irish people to hang together during this "horrible crisis" so we can become one of the world's thriving countries again.
In a rallying impromptu speech following his meeting with Taoiseach Brian Cowen in Government Buildings, Mr Clinton paid tribute to Ireland's generosity to the world's poorest during our own "horrible crisis".
Ireland, he said, has been dealt a "tough hand" during the economic downturn but we had to make the decisions that would return us to growth.
If the right choices were made, what made Ireland the fastest growing country in the world would emerge again.
Mr Clinton made his comments following an hour-long meeting with Mr Cowen yesterday.
The meeting came only 24 hours after it was revealed Ireland's bailout of the banks could run to upwards of €50bn, ushering in a harsher December Budget than expected.
The two-term Democratic president spoke off the cuff, without any speaking notes.
"I think you saved your financial system. You have to deal with the Budget crisis but I believe that if good choices are made, what made you the fastest growing country in Europe is still there," Mr Clinton said.
"All the talents, all the abilities, all the incentives. They are still there. I have really no doubt that the country will come back and that you'll come back with a more diversified economy, less vulnerable to what just happened to you. As long as everybody keeps moving ahead."
The international financial crisis had dealt Ireland a "tough hand" and mirrored what happened in US states like Nevada, which also experienced rapid growth.
In Nevada, people decided the next five years would be like the last 10, Mr Clinton said.
"It's a horrible time now but you will get out of it. It will get better as long as you hang together," Mr Clinton said. And the former US president, who oversees a HIV/AIDS Initiative, paid tribute to the Government, non-government organisations and Irish citizens for their continued generosity to Third-World countries.
Many people involved in his global AIDS foundation were in awe of Ireland's ability to continue to care and contribute to the welfare of the "truly disposed" around the world. In places like Mozambique, Ireland had helped to save 167,000 lives.
"Against all the disappointment and preoccupation that people have with the current financial crisis, it may be hard to credit that.
"People ought to feel good in this country, you ought to know that you did that," Mr Clinton said.
Mr Cowen also paid tribute to Mr Clinton and Clinton Global Initiative for its "huge work" in the poorest parts of the world.
The Taoiseach said it had been "great" to hear Mr Clinton's perspectives on the wider economic issues.
Their meeting had been a "wonderful and very memorable" occasion.
Mr Clinton has been in Dublin since Thursday to open the new Clinton Institute for American Studies in University College Dublin (UCD).
Clinton departed Ireland yesterday afternoon, and was believed to be heading to Wales to attend the Ryder Cup.