Enda feels the foot of history on high-wire act

Michael Noonan licked his finger, held it to the prevailing economic wind and decided conditions were right for a tightrope walk


Look Angela, no hands!

And no safety net either.

In an unexpected burst of showmanship, Enda Kenny was The Great Blondin of Government yesterday, embarking out of the blue on a long tightrope walk over a yawning financial abyss.

And with the country’s future lashed to his shoulders.

The Coalition’s plan to step off the bailout platform has been well publicised. They’ve been planning this spectacular since going into power 2½ years ago.

Risky, but with a significant morale-boosting reward – the restoration of Ireland’s economic sovereignty.

December 15th is the official B-Day.

But what hadn’t been known was how this manoeuvre would be attempted.

Enda sprung the answer on a surprised Dáil yesterday.

No safety harness
He announced we will be stepping into the great beyond without the support of an expensive safety harness – known in the high-wire business as a “precautionary credit line” (PCL).

Immediately, politicians, economists and commentators started arguing among themselves as to whether this was a wise or foolhardy move.

Should The Great Blondin topple, that PCL can catch him. It also triggers a cushion of capital called “a backstop”.

Only thing is, the EU suppliers of this survival system will extract a high price for their intervention, then leave Enda and Ireland dangling on the line for however long it takes a suffering nation to pay them back.

Yesterday, at a hastily convened Cabinet meeting in the morning, the Government decided to take a chance and walk unaided.

Michael Noonan set off for Brussels to announce the news. He, apparently, had recommended this daring course of action. The Minister for Finance licked his finger, held it to the prevailing economic wind and decided conditions were right to take a run at the thing.

But all this came as a bombshell to everyone else in Leinster House. The first indication something was afoot came after 10am, during Questions to the Minister for Agriculture – never the most closely monitored session at the best of times.

At the end of a discussion on the sugar industry, Simon Coveney excused himself. “A Cabinet meeting has been called this morning, which I have to attend for approximately 15 or 20 minutes,” he explained before belting away to Government Buildings.

Matters moved quickly after that. Within the hour, Chief Whip Paul Kehoe was in the chamber to announce business would be interrupted to allow the Taoiseach and Tánaiste make statements.

The Fianna Fáil leader, in anticipation of what was about to follow, complained bitterly about the lack of notice. “There cannot be a more fundamental or important issue than this, but the Opposition has not been apprised or consulted, good, bad or indifferent,” he fumed.

Government backbenchers wasted no time telling him that not only did Fianna Fáil keep them in the dark about the impending arrival of the troika to our shores, but some ministers denied it was even happening.

The Opposition called, and duly lost, a vote on whether the statements should take place or not.

“Not even a phone call,” grumbled Micheál.

Ministers trickled in to vote and left again to make a big entrance for Enda’s speech.

The Great Blondin rose to his feet, looking over that tightrope stretching far into the coming years.

“The Government has decided that Ireland will exit the EU-IMF assistance programme on December 15th, without the precautionary credit line from our EU and IMF partners,” began Enda, feeling the foot of history on his high-wire.

“We still have a long way to travel, but we are clearly moving in the right direction” he said. “Today is just the latest step.”

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who’ll be wobbling along the wire with him, also tested the tension on the rope.

“This is an important decision on our country’s road to recovery. It is an important milestone, and now is the right time to make this decision and take this step.”

But like the Taoiseach, Eamon knows a dangerous balancing act lies ahead. “Today’s decision is historic, important and welcome, but there will be no celebration until our economic fortunes are fully recovered.”

Exiting the bailout without strings will not mean “any windfall of cash”, said Enda.

Still, he said that Angela Merkel had offered her encouragement, and the balance pole of access to the German development bank.

Micheál Martin, who was part of the Fianna Fáil administration at the time of the bailout, reacted rather sulkily. He condemned the Government for criticising his party for bringing in the troika and then implementing its programme when they got into Government.

The Opposition was incensed, seeing as it was Fianna Fáil’s handiwork which forced them to do this.

Micheál just couldn’t bring himself to see anything good in yesterday’s announcement. Sinn Féin, on the other hand, issued a qualified welcome.

With a fair wind, The Great Blondin (and the Mighty Gilmore) were confident that Ireland can successfully reach the other side.

They’ll be hailed as heroes if they do.