Monday 22 January 2018

The Gospel according to Enda: we are back in the game

Enda had one clear message for other nations in financial dire straits when he addressed a distinguished audience of business shakers and movers in Harvard University in Boston last night -- and it was that "Ireland can be a role model for them as they tackle their difficulties".

This could be seen as a bit of an audacious claim, given that Ireland was first the global poster-country for the boom, before becoming the whipping-boy for the spectacular bust.

But that was then and this is now -- and it's become increasingly clear during the Taoiseach's three-day US visit this week that the Government is ramping up its global offensive to increase trade traffic both in and out of Ireland.

For the Taoiseach isn't just wearing the green jersey as he speeds around the globe these days. He has the bobble hat, mittens and scarf to match as he preaches the Gospel According to Enda -- that Ireland Inc is back in the game.

In his keynote Harvard speech, he described the arrival of the IMF into Ireland in November 2010 as "a bleak midwinter for our country, our pride, our people", but emphasised the positive also.

"Ireland is the only English-speaking member of the Eurozone and a gateway to the European single market of 500 million consumers," he said, adding that one of his priorities was "restoring Ireland's place as a respected member of the international community".

He also drew attention to the lack of civil unrest (so far) at home (unlike other countries which he could've mentioned but didn't) hailing "the Irish people, young and old (who) have shown great courage and resilience, making sacrifices in order to help us get our public finances on a more stable path."

And even though he was speaking on the east coast of the US, he had another message for one arm of the troika, the European Central Bank which, he said, was making "increasingly creative and innovative use of its remit as it adapts to the crisis. Ireland remains hopeful that -- like the US Federal Reserve -- as new credible fiscal rules for euro countries are agreed, the ECB can play a fuller role in combating the financial crisis."

Before he left New York yesterday morning after calling on Mayor Bloomberg in City Hall, he announced that he would be travelling to 10 Downing Street on March 12th -- only a month after his last visit to David Cameron -- "to demonstrate the very close trading links with Ireland and Britain and to build on that."

Also, he will be talking trade with China's vice president Xi Jinping during this immensely powerful leader's three-day visit to Ireland which begins today -- and which is something of a coup for the Irish Government.

"The primary purpose of this is to discuss the strengthening of the links between Ireland and China with particular reference to trade both ways," he said, revealing that a veritable cavalcade of government ministers would be travelling to China in the coming months.

What's more, he was also determined to model the green jersey in Boston, a city he described as "the Galway of America" during his two-day sojourn. "We've had significant investment from America and I'm going to meet a whole range of those people here," he explained.

"I make no apology for wanting to keep these relations at a very high level and a very trusting level, so that trade, jobs and commerce can go both ways."

However, it wasn't all about the hard-sell either. Mindful of which city he was in yesterday, the Taoiseach was at pains to pay lavish tribute in his Harvard address to its most famous Irish-American son, John F Kennedy.

Referring to the his visit to Ireland in 1963, Enda spoke of how "in his address to the Irish parliament, President Kennedy asked the old question, 'how can nation as small as Ireland play much of a role on the world stage?' Then true to form, he answered it. 'All the world owes much to the little 'five-feet-high' nations'," he said.

And he also spoke of how he is scheduled to visit the Kennedy Library the following morning. "The exhibits. . . the documents. . . the photographs. . . . Every time it gives me that strange sense of melancholy and fortitude," he said. "John F Kennedy has been, and is, a haunting presence in our lives."

This Government are on a full-bore offensive to clean up the global image of Ireland as a nation of irresponsible spendthrifts. And to that end, the Taoiseach wasn't shy of deploying some technicolour imagery to sell the whole notion of Ireland leading other afflicted countries out of the economic desert and into the land of milk, honey, happy bondholders and bulging bank vaults.

"In the sixth Century Irish monks set sail from our island to bring what was 'a semi-barbarian Europe' out of the Dark Ages. Our monk Columbanus -- praised by Pope Benedict as the Patron Saint of Europe -- brought 'illumination' to the Franks and to the Rhineland before building his great monastic settlement," Enda explained.

So in short, Europe owes us. But Enda didn't put it that bluntly. For this is more about charm, and less about offensive.

Irish Independent

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