Serving up a dish to please the Irish proves easy in the end


European Central Bank president Mario Draghi played his cards close to his chest in Frankfurt yesterday, saying the bank’s governing council “unanimously took note” but made no decision on an Irish proposal.

An hour before Taoiseach Enda Kenny addressed the Dáil, Mr Draghi shrugged off questions while denying his silence was part of “choreography” to allow a decision to be announced in Dublin.

Sensing the frustration building in the ECB press room, he added: “I know it is not satisfactory but it is difficult for me to say something different.”

‘Details of the swap’

All the same, a few crumbs fell from the top table, as the Italian-born banker departed minimally from his script.

Would the ECB accept a swap of the promissory note for a government bond? Would it accept this bond as collateral? “We don’t want to enter into the details of the swap,” he said, apparently confirming a swap was afoot. “It is entirely the of the Irish Government and the Central Bank of Ireland actions.”

Mr Draghi added it was a “positive step” that Ireland would not avail in future of exceptional liquidity assistance funding.

He said the deal was the result of the reform efforts of the Irish Government on economic and financial policy.

“That is what really mattered in the end, to re-establish [the] reputation of Ireland on financial markets,” he said. “All in all the outlook is really positive.”

Outside the press conference hall, journalists were busy reading the runes at the lunch buffet. A delicious vision in green, white and gold was the “St Patrick cream”, a vanilla cream dessert with pistachios and bits of pineapple.

The main course was an Irish minced potato casserole. Why? “Just a coincidence, we have three culinary regions – northern, central and southern Europe,” said the ECB buffet spokesperson. “This month was northern Europe and it’s very easy to cook Irish.”

They may have denied it but, even before the promissory note deal was officially announced, ECB caterers seemed anxious to demonstrate to any doubters that Ireland was most definitely a part of northern Europe.

And was it Irish beef in the casserole? After all they were selling “hot horse sausages” at the food market up the street.

The culinary co-ordinator went away to get an answer and never reappeared. By then, an Irish seven minutes late, Mr Draghi swept into the room to note that the ECB governing council had taken note of what might be the end of the promissory note.

Welcomed the deal

An hour later, across town at Frankfurt’s Goethe University, Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan welcomed the deal.

“I’m very satisfied with the arrangement the Government has made around IBRC, but I don’t want to go into details,” he said.

Asked about whether converting the promissory note to a bond breached ECB rules against monetary financing, he replied: “We have it all examined and, don’t worry, we’re very far away from monetary financing.”