Michael Noonan rather relaxed as IMF meet in Washington

Cantillon: Irish embassies playing key role in trade under strong international headwinds

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: “People don’t wake up every morning wondering about Ireland. They dip in and out of how the Irish economy is doing.” Photograph: Victor J Blue/Bloomberg

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan: “People don’t wake up every morning wondering about Ireland. They dip in and out of how the Irish economy is doing.” Photograph: Victor J Blue/Bloomberg

 

At a reception for senior finance officials in Washington on Thursday night, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan looked around the room with a smile and spoke about seeing the “ghosts of Christmas past”. He was referring to the International Monetary Fund officials who had gathered to meet the Irish Minister.

How times have changed. Five years ago, the visit by the Irish minister for finance to the IMF in Washington would have meant one thing – an uncomfortable meeting with the Troika.

This year, in its post-bailout state, Ireland was in danger of being lost among the crowd at the annual financial jamboree.

For the Irish contingent at the annual World Bank-IMF spring meetings, that’s a good thing.

Ireland was one of more than 150 countries represented at the spring meetings this year. Much of the objective of the visit was technical. Ireland, along with Canada, is part of a constituency of a dozen or so countries represented at the fund and, as a member, has officials posted to the World Bank and the IMF.

Irish economy

But the visit is also an important opportunity for Ireland to see and be seen at the biggest gathering of finance chiefs in the world. As Noonan put it: “People don’t wake up every morning wondering about Ireland. They dip in and out of how the Irish economy is doing.”

While the visit is an opportunity for the Department of Finance to inform the Trump administration about Ireland as the commerce department reviews Ireland’s trade surplus with the United States, much of the heavy lifting will be done by the Irish Embassy in Washington. As the US embarks on reforming its tax and trade policy, the contacts that Irish Ambassadors and diplomats have built up over the years, including with Irish-Americans such as the increasingly influential Mick Mulvaney, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, should stand Ireland in good stead.

As Ireland faces headwinds on a number of international fronts in the coming years, the work that takes place behind-the-scenes in embassies in Brussels, London and Washington has never been so vital.

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