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Lise Hand: Enda eyes bigger picture as he swallows bitter bill

The Opposition can rend garments, gnash teeth, rail at the heavens all they like, but the Taoiseach is handing over that cheque for €1.25bn of our hard-earned loot today, come hell or high dudgeon.

And notwithstanding the grim fact that this serious wedge of taxpayers' money is being placed into the paws of those upstanding pillars of society known as the unsecured bondholders of the deader-than-dead Anglo Irish Bank, Enda is not for burning.

"We are not going to have the name 'defaulter' written across our foreheads, we will pay our way," he declared during Leaders' Questions in the Dail yesterday.

Indeed, nobody would fancy that piece of national self-flagellation. It smacks too much of Bertie Ahern's penitential forehead on all the Ash Wednesdays before anyone copped on that the then-Taoiseach had anything to be sorry about.

But with Michael Noonan off in Brussels to meet with some key shakers and movers in the ongoing eurozone drama, including ECB President Mario Draghi and EU Economic Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn, it fell to Enda to explain the Government's insistence on making this payment.

And he put up a firm and unyielding defence of what many voters see as the indefensible -- which is paying over, in the teeth of a recession, this substantial sum to a group largely regarded as gamblers in the markets who specialise in taking high-risk punts on unguaranteed bonds.

However, the Government is prepared to take what it sees as a short-term beating, in return for longer-term gain, even in the face of fiercely vocal opposition from a collection of sectors including opposition parties, trade unions and a newly-formed coalition of social justice groups.

Firstly, Ireland Inc is understandably eager to shed its reputation for being as delinquent as a rioting hoodie in a telly-shop. The feckless free-spending Celtic Tiger must be replaced by the Celtic Hamster, a species which hoards stuff for a rainy day and which stays happily on the economic treadmill.

"I want you to understand that it's not to my liking to have to stand up here and say there's no alternative but to pay what a solemn Irish government committed itself to in terms of our reputation and our status," Enda told Gerry Adams in the Dail.

The Sinn Fein leader had been insisting that the Taoiseach say "Sin e" to the chaps now in charge of the bank formerly known as Anglo and tell them that they can go sing for the €1.25bn.

"I would much prefer to stand up here and say that we were in a position not to pay this, but there's a difference between won't and can't," the Taoiseach said.

"This country is making its way through a very difficult period here, and what was committed to by a solemn Irish government has now got to be followed through."

Secondly, however, the €1.25bn is relatively small beer when far larger sums are at stake. The size of the numbers and the extent of the problem keep expanding, as evidenced yesterday by the Grand Wizards of the IMF wiping sweat from their brows as they warned that the entire global economy is currently as steady as a one-legged tightrope-walker, and with the fearful 'trillion' word now applying for the first time in history to the UK debt mountain.

So Team Enda has its sights set on a bigger prize than simply a billion-odd shekel or two. For the mission nigh-impossible is to negotiate concessions on the far larger debt millstone around the necks of the Irish taxpayer -- in particular the €30bn-plus in promissory notes owed to Anglo, which changed its name in the spirit of Windscale nuclear plant, and now trades (or doesn't trade) under the name of the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation.

This is the prize which the Government has set its cap at, and both the Taoiseach and the Finance Minister are embroiled in a round-robin of euro-meetings over this week in which they will have opportunities to plead Ireland's case for clemency.

Yesterday Michael Noonan sat down with both Mario Draghi and Olli Rehn, and Enda Kenny heads to the economic think-tank in Davos in Switzerland later today, where the main topic will be the parlous state of the eurozone. And next Monday the Taoiseach goes to Brussels for what's been billed as yet another "crucial" EU summit.

And so this was the main plank of the Taoiseach's Dail defence yesterday.

"Where the emphasis now for the Government is in the meetings today of the Minister for Finance with Mr Draghi to deal with the promissory note and the extent of the €30bn over 10 years which has got to be paid -- it's in that area that the real benefits for this country can come from," he emphasised.

'It's very important that we make our colleagues in Europe aware of the huge burden that this country has had to face by the extensive borrowing before the facilities of the EFSF and the ESM come into being."

And timing being everything, the Irish Government's case may be helped by yesterday's dire warnings from the IMF that the global economy is in the "danger zone" due to the instability of the eurozone and the growing pressure on the Brussels bigwigs to rethink their draconian bailout rules.

But it still doesn't make the bitter pill -- or bill -- of €1.25bn any easier to swallow.

Irish Independent