Relief, if not debt relief, on last night of the proms

Fri, Feb 8, 2013, 00:00

With all the twists and turns of a spy novel, the Anglo riddle was solved

It sounded more like the plot of a gripping spy thriller than the difficult story of a debt restructuring deal.

Working across borders and in total secrecy within “The Ring of Confidentiality”, Ireland’s elite Government team started slowly with Operation Dawn, then powered up to Project Red.

After long nights of planning, months of negotiation and a potentially fatal information leak in the closing stages, they finally landed The Anglo Irish Agreement, Mark II.

Garret FitzGerald delivered the first in 1985.

In a different twist to history, Enda Kenny produced the second one yesterday.

“Today’s outcome is an historic step on the road to economic recovery,” said the Taoiseach, commending the agreement to a packed Dáil.

“It has been a long and difficult slog to get to this point, but it has been worth it,” declared the Tánaiste.

In a game where winning can only be measured in degrees of separation from chronic financial pain, this was quite a result.

“This is no silver bullet to end all our economic problems,” cautioned Enda.

But under the circumstances, and to the great credit of the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Ministers Noonan and Howlin, they stuck to their task and came up with as good as it gets.

The blank faces and winded silence from across the floor said as much. (Even if a wan Peter Mathews, long-time critic of his Government’s debt reduction strategy, appeared more disconsolate than the Opposition.)

But as giddy relief spread through the benches around him, Enda Kenny looked absolutely shattered. It’s been a roller coaster week for him – from villain to hero in three days.

But now maybe we can understand why, in his distraction, he took his eye off the ball when framing his response to the Magdalene laundries report.

The Taoiseach’s requests for some short breathing space in which to deal with the issue make a little more sense now. His subdued reaction to the news on the promissory notes – when his party colleagues could scarcely contain their joy – was not all down to fatigue.

Even a congratulatory phone call on Wednesday night from Angela Merkel failed to improve his mood.

In the midst of the feverish action during that frantic late Dáil sitting, the German chancellor called the Taoiseach to convey her good wishes and support.

But then, the deal wasn’t done at that stage – although it’s clear now, now that people are free to talk, that the Cabinet was confident of success.

Agreement from the ECB didn’t arrive officially until midday.

At a press briefing after the announcement, officials from the Department of Finance and Department of Public Expenditure, who have been working flat-out on the project for the last 18 months, had relief written all over their faces.

Why? “We are tearing up the promissory note and we have wiped Anglo Irish Bank off the map,” said Eamon Gilmore.

At last, it’s goodbye to those promiscuous notes. If not our debt.

“There won’t be a cow milked in Merrion Street tonight!” whispered a delighted number cruncher, sounding like a man determined to celebrate The Last Night of the Proms.

Given that the final public act in the countdown to The Deal was played out in Leinster House, it was not without a large dollop of comedy.

Would we get a deal at all? Rumour ran rife around Leinster House yesterday morning.

Then the ECB boss, Mario Draghi, held his early afternoon press conference. He kept the spy thriller theme going by talking in code about the Irish situation.

But the ECB had “unanimously noted” what was going on in Ireland.

Those in the know translated. “Keep her going, Patsy, the job is OXO,” said Mario.

The announcement came at 10 minutes to three. Dáil business was interrupted when the Taoiseach entered the chamber, his Cabinet walking behind.

They walked down the middle set of steps to the front bench.

This is the route of choice on the big occasions.

There was a little flurry of activity in the ranks of the Technical Group. Richard Boyd Barret, at the railing skirting the chamber, was scrunching up little pieces of paper.

Then he nipped down the steps to Catherine Murphy and held out his hand, revealing the papers in the bowl of his palm.

She picked one out and Richard returned to the rails and unfolded it. He showed the scrap to Shane Ross, who laughed.

Below them, Mattie McGrath began furiously writing notes with a red biro. He had won the speaking lottery.

Peter Mathews padded to his seat. Very glum.

“I am therefore pleased to announce today that Ireland has reached a conclusion to its negotiations with the ECB,” said Enda.

Out through the gap and clear. You could feel the worry lifting from the Government side.

The Fianna Fáil leader gave a qualified welcome. “We always knew it was going to happen,” he sniffed. The Government side slid into hysterics.

“You are replacing a promissory note with a sovereign bond,” thundered Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty. His party has no truck with sovereigns.

Then Mattie stood and delivered a stream of consciousness which would have bamboozled James Joyce in his prime.

Enda nodded off for a few seconds, then he snapped forward and took a long drink of water.

As Mattie invoked the name of Michael Collins in his aimless gallop, Shane Ross looked like he was going to cry.