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Minister does the right thing

LAST night Mary Coughlan did the right thing -- belatedly, but better late than never. She agreed to meet the chief executive of Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, to discuss his offer to bring 300 jobs to Dublin Airport.

The issue should never have arisen. There may be flaws in the Ryanair proposal. There may be issues of protocol. No doubt there are two sides to the story of Mr O'Leary's past fraught relations with the Dublin Airport Authority. But none of this should have stood for one moment in the way of discussing the offer.

Presumably the Tanaiste and all her colleagues in the Cabinet know that we have swapped double-digit growth for double-digit unemployment. And presumably they know that the Dublin Airport issue is exceptionally sensitive.

A large group of skilled workers, thrown out of work through circumstances they could not possibly control, see a chance to get some of their jobs back. They blame the Government for inaction. They know that other governments, faced with a similar opportunity, would act like lightning. They recall instances in which rivals have competed with us, and lured away jobs from Ireland. And their knowledge, and their views, are shared by the overwhelming majority of the population. No wonder the airwaves went wild yesterday, and no wonder the Tanaiste caved in.

But the damage has been done, on two fronts. This is a public relations disaster, and much more than a public relations disaster, for the Government as a whole, which has been exposed as complacent and drastically out of touch with the mood of the country.

It could be even more of a disaster in a wider sense. And at what a time! The crisis in Greece has already had two effects which should frighten everyone in Ireland: it has threatened the future of the euro currency, and raised the possibility that the international markets may bring down Greece and then bet against Ireland and other weak economies.

What are the markets to think of a country that does not grab a chance to save jobs with both hands? A country where a supremely successful businessman does not have guaranteed access to the office of the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment? A country where officials in the same office refuse to answer the telephone because of a work-to-rule in protest against pay cuts? The answers must be bleak in the extreme.

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