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Mary Kenny: Our boom and bust made the financial media take notice

Rarely in the history of the Irish State have its finances and associated politics been so closely monitored in the international media as over the past two years.

Ireland has become a major international financial story in a way it never used to be. That is particularly symbolised by the close attention that the 'Financial Times' has paid to this country, ever since the IRA ceasefire in 1994.

The Troubles ceased being the main Irish story overseas, and the development of the economy took centre stage.

The 'Financial Times' (FT) -- that pink newspaper specialising in money matters -- has a small circulation, but a surprisingly strong impact on Irish political life. It is the most quoted newspaper on the Dail record.

British Chancellor George Osborne and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde are known to pay close attention to the 'FT's reports, and it would be read in Berlin by Wolfgang Schauble, Angela Merkel's finance minister.

The 'FT' created something of a political storm recently by seeming to condemn the outgoing Fianna Fail administration to a period of oblivion when it thundered that an expected rout of Fianna Fail could turn into "electoral annihilation that may be richly deserved".

It seemed as though the influential 'FT' was advising the Irish nation that the best economic interest of the country lay in voting against the most dominant Irish political party.

John Murray Brown has been the Ireland correspondent of the 'FT' since that significant date in 1994 and is quick to point out that he did not write that controversial editorial.

Murray Brown reports from Ireland -- he has filed 580 reports from this country in the last two years -- but the editorials would come from the editor's desk in London. As the Ireland correspondent, Murray Brown aims to be strictly neutral in his election despatches.

Does he get the VIP treatment from Irish politicians wanting to sway international opinion? Not particularly, he says in his understated English way, but there would be some pressure from certain quarters to give a more positive spin to the Irish story. But, says the 'FT' man, he couldn't write anything implausible or over-sunny about the outlook for the Irish economy, as that wouldn't be credible or trustworthy. What the 'FT' usually does get on the Irish political scene is access to those at the top.

Rightly or wrongly, the 'FT' -- which was of course founded by an Irishman from Tipperary, the legendary and enigmatic Brendan Bracken -- has taken a certain campaigning position about the Irish bond market. For about nine months now, the editorial line has been advocating that the bond holders who lent money recklessly should be forced to take some losses on their investments, and thus reduce the liabilities carried by the Irish taxpayer. The problem is that the bondholders who lent to Irish banks are the same who lent to other banks in the eurozone, and there could be a "contagion effect" making it difficult for other European banks to raise money. So it could be a risky strategy.

If the 'FT' can be critical of Ireland it can also be supportive. It probably influenced George Osborne in his stance that Ireland's economy -- and political wellbeing -- was crucial to the UK. And the focus that the 'FT' gives to Ireland is, in the end, important for Ireland's international profile.

"Ireland is a small country but lots of people have an interest in what happens here," says Murray Brown.

Irish Independent