U2 singer Bono has revealed he saw world famous investor and philanthropist George Soros "go for" Herman Van Rompuy, President of the European Council, over the issue of Ireland being forced to pay off all our bondholders. The singer also says that Ireland should have burnt bondholders when the country went through the troika bailout.
"They are all big boys and they could have afforded a haircut and a new suit and some underwear if that was necessary," he said in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent.
The singer went on to say: "That was a grim, grim moment in our history. Our people paid far too high a price."
The singer says he saw investor and philanthropist George Soros, "go for Van Rompuy", over the matter, "and it was embarrassing because George Soros knew more about the details of the Irish bond market than I did".
Bono says the whole thing was "just very, very unfair". But he did say he was, "amazed at the subtlety of the response [of the Irish people] because we could have thrown a monumental tantrum - it just wouldn't have made things any better."
Bandmate Larry Mullen agreed, saying: "When the truth comes out, and it will, I think, Europe and the European banks - we'll be astonished by what they did to Ireland."
Bono agreed that "it will emerge", and that "it wasn't a nice moment".
Despite the furore in certain quarters around the release of U2's new album Songs of Innocence for free on iTunes, the album has been downloaded and listened to by tens of millions of people and is the band's most popular and critical success in years. Five years in the making and heralding a return to old-fashioned songwriting, after what Larry Mullen now calls the "incomplete" No Line On The Horizon, the new album is a stunning return to form and the band have been hugely re-energised by getting out and playing the new songs on the radio and TV shows, including Friday Night's Late Late Show.
Bono also spoke of his respect for Enda Kenny, with whom he has worked on bringing tech businesses to Ireland. "I've a lot of time for him," Bono said of Enda, "and I've seen him deal with tough crowds." Bono laughed that he did not mean the Irish public, but Enda Kenny's "contemporaries and the high fliers at meetings in Davos and things like that, and it gives me pride that he can speak off the hoof, and not just poetically. He can actually get down to brass tacks, and I've seen him go after companies to get them to Ireland. I witnessed him headlock Brian Cheskey from Airbnb to get their headquarters into Dublin, and I was working on this too."
Bono got to know the Taoiseach when they collaborated on bringing companies like Google and Facebook to commit to Ireland. He also praised the work of the IDA, saying they are "unbelievable, like the Jedi".
Bono and Larry stressed, however, that Bono's work wouldn't change if there was a new government. He would work with whoever was there.
Bono also expressed concern that Labour has not been given enough credit for pulling the country out of recession. "I don't think it would have been possible without Labour," he said, "It was a two-headed monster". Asked if he worried that Labour would be in trouble in the next election, he said: "I don't know, but I fear that people might not understand how just what an Armageddon we were facing, and how these two parties did very well."
The singer added that he was, "sure Fianna Fail will renew itself very well too," while stressing, "I'm not taking a party political position. I had to give that up when I became a campaigner for One."
Talking about the band's own tax situation, which has been the subject of some controversy over the last few years after the band moved a part of their business to Holland, Bono also clarified that he did not, as widely reported last week, say he supported the so-called 'Double Irish' tax scheme and that he welcomed its phasing out.
"We can understand why people, at first glance, get upset with U2 if they mistakenly think we don't pay tax. We do. Millions of euro in Ireland. But isn't it absurd if Ireland as a country can have a culture of tax competitiveness but Irish companies cannot? This doesn't make sense, what also doesn't make sense are abuses such as the so-called 'Double Irish', which is being phased out and rightly so. We have been misquoted as being in favour of it, we are not and never have been. It is also true to say that the 12.5pc corporate tax rate would mean nothing to the companies that have availed of it were it not for the talented, savvy workforce here. That is our greatest resource and that should be what gives us most pride. It's rough out there and we need to be so smart to make it through even the next few years."
Bono also pointed out that the only people whose opinion U2 really values are the fans. "We're not politicians," he said. "We don't need the popular vote. Our audience is a tiny minority. We just need to speak to them and they know through the songs who we are."
'Songs of Innocence' is available on iTunes, to stream on Spotify and on CD and vinyl with extra tracks.
See the full interview in next week's Sunday Independent.