Bill Clinton feels the pain of the Irish on a grim news day for them

Dublin: If there was ever a right time for former president Bill Clinton to be in Ireland it was yesterday.

The man who came to office because he could "feel the pain" of ordinary Americans arrived on a day that the final bill became due for Ireland's Celtic Tiger drunken binge.

It came to $65 billion and Irish taxpayers were suddenly looking at decades of repayments that made the good times seem like an every more cruel mirage.

The Irish are like the family that just realized all the family heirlooms have to be pawned to make ends meet because a corrupt banker just stole all their savings.

But in two appearances in Dublin yesterday Bill Clinton set about steeling the Irish to the harsh reality they have now inherited.

At the opening of the William J.Clinton Center for American Studies on the campus of University College Dublin the former president reminded the student audience, that they were very fortunate.

From speaking to them beforehand I knew many were looking at the emigrant plane as an ever more viable option and feeling sorry for themselves,

No, they were not unfortunate, they were among the luckiest people alive Clinton told them. Their government worked, the lights came on every night, the toilets flushed, the infrastructure held together, they lived in homes they did not have to build themselves

Contrast that with much of the world where $2 a day is an average income and nothing works he said . Contrast that with grossly corrupt countries where power and privilege is paid for not earned.

All around me I could feel the students pick up and pay attention. This was a very different , effervescent message to the gloom and doom that passes for national dialogue in Ireland these days.

Then he talked about the worldwide legacy of Ireland, noting with great pride that since the foundation of the United Nations Irish peacekeepers and aid workers have been involved in every single aid emergency, from the Congo in the 1950s, Biafra in the 1960s to Haiti in 2010.

He also mentioned the extraordinary impact of the Northern Irish peace process on the image of the country worldwide and the example it gave in many other conflict resolution situations worldwide.

It was Clinton at his best, as the cheerleader in chief and enabler in residence, to help young Irish keep their eyes on a prize, not on the deep gloom that surrounds them like a fog.

He gave the same message at O'Reilly Hall in UCD that night to a room full of businessmen and women at an event hosted by Business and Finance Magazine. Ireland would be "just fine."

'You will work through this, you will get through this." he told the audience of leading business people. He reached into Greek mythology to make his point that the negative experience would make Irish people ultimately feel better about themselves.

At times he sounded like a psychiatrist counseling a suicidal client saying that what would not kill them would make them stronger.

Then he turned to the glory of the heavens, the new planet discovered just this week in a galaxy far away which could probably bear human life. He spoke of the Hadron collider where atoms smash into each other and scientists have discovered that there are more positive than negative charges in atoms.

It was Clinton at his eclectic best, ranging over a vast array of subjects, showing an encyclopedic knowledge of them all an delivering a positive message.

And he convinced his audience to think afresh too. Ireland's leading businessman Denis O'Brien stated that yesterday was ground zero for Ireland, the day the worst news had come out and it was time to start to rebuild.

President Clinton has shown the way it could be done he said. His speech was an inspiration and a challenge. It was time for the American 'can do' attitude to take over.

So Clinton did light a kindly light amid the encircling gloom in Ireland yesterday.

It was indeed a fortunate wind that took him to the land of his forebears yesterday. It was good to be an Irish American in Ireland yesterday.

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