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November Rehn gives 'bangers a chill to the bone

What: A Hard Rehn's Gonna Fall.

What? Who'll Stop the Rehn? It Never Rehns But it Pours. I Can't Stand the Rehn. November Rehn.

Ok, what's with the set-list? What's this Rehn stuff? It's a tribute to Olli Rehn, the European Union's Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, aka the Brussels Bogeyman, the EU Enforcer, the Man who Wants A Four-Year Plan.

He sounds a bit scary -- thank goodness he's in Brussels and not over here. Alas, he was indeed over here this week. Olli nipped over to Ireland last Monday for a two-day visit.

Eh? What was all that about? Surely we don't have time to ferry some tourist around the Book of Kells and the Guinness Storehouse while we've a got country to run (into the ground, that is)? This was strictly business. Olli was in town for a dizzying round of speed-date-style powwows with our Finance Minister Brian Lenihan, the Taoiseach, the financial teams from the opposition parties and various groupings from the social partnership.

Is he looking for a job or something? No, he has one already, and he has quite a job on his hands trying to help and sort out the frightful farrago that is the Irish economy. Our deficit has spiralled alarmingly to the extent where a savage €6bn Budget has to be unleashed on the populace next month, with three more similar nightmare budgets to come until 2014.

Did he bring a money-printing press in his suitcase? Nope, but he did pack those twin tools of persuasion: the carrot and the stick. Just after his arrival on Monday night, he held a press conference with Brian Lenihan and he assured us that the European Commission "supports Ireland and its citizens to face these challenges".

Phew, so he's going to give us a wedge of cash, so? Sadly Olli's support is more moral than literal. And he might have looked harmless but he's a powerful poobah in Brussels.

Who are Olli's people? Is he one of the Rehns of Skibbereen? Olli hails from Finland, actually, and looks like a classic bureaucrat, sporting neat grey hair and spectacles and speaking heavily accented but fluent English. Intriguingly, he used to play semi-professional football in his home country, and his also a bit of a fan of head-banging rock music.

Well he must've felt right at home here, given the number of headbangers that he was lined up to meet? That's a most unkind way to speak of our political elite. Olli had a perfectly civilised series of chinwags with the economic teams from Fine Gael, the Labour Party and Sinn Fein, followed by sit-downs with the chaps from the employers' association IBEC and also with the Three Wise Beards.

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Who on earth are the Three Wise Beards? That would be the trio of top trade unionists, David Begg and Paul Sweeney of ICTU and Jack O'Connor of SIPTU.

And why did Olli bother meeting the opposition, sure they can't do anything to change the Budget, can they? Well firstly Olli was trying to gently nudge the opposition parties in the direction of political consensus on the draconian cuts required to bail out our economy. And secondly he may have wanted to see the whites of Michael Noonan and Joan Burton's eyes as one of them is likely to be the next Finance Minister.

Yes, but that's not going to be for quite some time, surely? It may very well be sooner than later, given that the Government is going to have to get a horrible Budget passed in the Dail with a wafer-thin majority.

So how did Olli do? Well his very presence was a grim indication of just how closely the EU is watching us right now and any budgetary slacking will be severely punished by our Brussels overlords.

Did he have any advice for us? Yes, he told the press it's "better not to paint the devil to the wall unless you can wash it off from there".

What the hell? Yes, we're going there, in a fast handcart.


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