Taoiseach upbeat about Irish future on world stage

Sat, Mar 17, 2012, 00:00

IRELAND WILL pay a heavy price for the economic mistakes made in its name, the Taoiseach has insisted during the first day of his US visit.

Paying this price was the only way to ensure Ireland remained a strong player on the world stage and retained the confidence of the international community, he told an audience of more than 300 business people in Chicago yesterday.

In an upbeat assessment for his American audience at the Union League Club, Mr Kenny said rising confidence in Ireland internationally could see its economy “take off” in the event of an improvement in the world economy.

The event at the exclusive Union League Club was attended by mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel, US president Barack Obama’s former chief of staff. Mr Obama was in his home city yesterday on a fundraising drive but did not meet Mr Kenny, who is scheduled to visit the White House next Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Kenny said the Government was creating structures to avail of the economy’s potential for growth when the global situation starts to “move on”.

Echoing Minister for Finance Michael Noonan’s claim that the economy would go off “like a rocket” should the global situation improve, the Taoiseach said he was very hopeful of following through with decisions to help the economy to grow strongly when the opportunity presented itself.

“Given the sense of rising confidence that there is, and given strong interest continuously expressed by American investors in Ireland, I can see real potential. But there are challenges ahead and a long way to go,” Mr Kenny said yesterday, launching the American campaign for The Gathering, a marketing initiative which aims to get people of Irish ancestry to visit Ireland next year.

He hinted that Croke Park could be the venue for a big American football game next year. Some 25,000 people are expected to travel from the US in September for a game between the Notre Dame “Fighting Irish” and Navy in the Aviva stadium. Now Mr Kenny says he has been in discussions with Dan Rooney, former US ambassador to Ireland and the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, about Ireland hosting “an even bigger spectacle” in Croke Park.

“I can’t say for certain that it will happen but I would encourage it very strongly,” he said.

On Ireland’s attempt to renegotiate the deal on Anglo promissory notes, Mr Kenny said he had not imposed any “timeline” on the talks. With Ireland due to pay €3.1 billion under the deal by the end of this month, there have been hopes that this payment might be postponed pending the outcome of talks on overall restructuring of the arrangement.

Although EU commissioner Olli Rehn appeared to squash any such hopes, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan has suggested that a deal could still be struck.

However, Mr Kenny said he hadn’t raised any expectations in relation to the discussions, which were very technical and complex.

Asked about calls by two of his backbenchers for the planning tribunal to publish its report without further delay, the Taoiseach said chairman Judge Alan Mahon was “entirely in charge of his own remit”.

“It is up to the judge to inform the Government when he is ready to publish his report,” he said. However, he didn’t want tribunals to “run on interminably”.

Questioned about the non-attendance of the archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George, at last night’s dinner of the Irish Fellowship Club in honour of the Taoiseach, Mr Kenny said this was the cardinal’s own decision and he had no comment on it.

Cardinal George’s decision not to attend has been interpreted in some quarters as a snub over the Taoiseach’s stance on clerical sexual abuse issues, but the cardinal has said he had a prior engagement.