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Ireland's leader Enda Kenny pays no price for bad-mouthing the Irish people

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Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny addressing the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Enda Kenny speaking at the
World Economic Forum
in Davos, Switzerland.

Ireland's Prime Minister Enda Kenny will be speaking at Harvard University on February 16 and if his past form is anything to go by, he will denounce the Irish people as a bunch of over-educated elitists in the hope of eliciting praise from the Harvard audience. Or something like that.

I can hear you from here. "This guy's nuts. No elected leader would do such a thing."

You may well be right about his upcoming Harvard appearance, but ten days ago Kenny did essentially that when he 'explained' to a gathering in Davos, Switzerland that the Irish people "went mad borrowing," which led to "a spectacular crash" in our economy.

When I heard what the Taoiseach had said I was gobsmacked. I fully expected there to be political uproar in Ireland. At a minimum I was expecting him to be forced into some form of ignominious climb-down. I was sure there would be blood.
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I was wrong. A few people made noise arguing that the Taoiseach was wrong, but some popped up to back-up Kenny including the editor of The Irish Times.

Within a few days it was all over. Done, dead, forgotten. The firestorm I anticipated less than a lighted match. Once again I totally misread the political mood of the Irish people.

It wasn't what Kenny said that I thought would excite people. It was where he said it and to whom.

Sure there was some truth in what Kenny said. Many of us did "go mad." There was a fever here in the years running up to 2006/07. People - regular people, not millionaires or whatever - were desperate to own that second home to rent out or to own an apartment in Bulgaria or Croatia. There were ads on the radio from law firms and businesses offering their legal, translation and other services to people keen to own that little slice of the Baltic region. Others spent like there was no tomorrow, usually on their credit cards. I didn't understand it then and I understand it even less now.

However, the madness of the people was more a symptom than a cause of our troubles. And what, exactly, caused our troubles you may well ask?

The old saying holds that success has a thousand fathers and failure is an orphan. Well, in Ireland our orphan - the economic failure - has a thousand paternity suits. Nobody is claiming the baby, but a lot of people are pointing the finger at those who might be the father.

The truth is there were many factors that led to our collapse. Our bankers, our regulators, our central bank, our government, even ourselves all failed to keep in check what should have been kept in check. Too many impulses were allowed to run riot.

However, some of the factors that drove us into this dismal state were external. The people who designed the euro failed Ireland. Europe's banks - the kingpin drug dealers who fed our banks' habits - failed Ireland. The European Central Bank and other European regulators failed Ireland. EU economists and civil servants failed Ireland.

And it was this latter group who were in the audience that day when Kenny pointed the finger of blame as those at home. I still can't believe he did that.

Only a short eight weeks earlier Kenny had gone on live prime-time television to tell us we weren't to blame, but we'd have to shoulder the costs. If he believed it was the fault of the Irish people, that our "greed" got the better of us, he should have said so in that television address. He would have annoyed some people, but many would have acknowledged there was some truth in his view. He would have been seen as providing some leadership.

He didn't do that however. No, he waited until he had an audience of wealthy fat cats, many of whom were complicit in what happened here and whose bone-headed investments in our banks the Irish people were covering, to explain that it was the Irish people's fault.

Implicit in his speech was that those bone-headed European bankers were not to blame. Eurocrats - in the clear too. Same goes for all those involved in the design and management of the euro. He left Ireland to go to an exclusive gathering of the world's elite at a ski resort in Switzerland to tell them not to worry, it was all our fault. They weren't to blame.

This is why I was so sure that there would be a major political backlash against Kenny. Surely such gutlessness would require a price. Surely the press and opposition and the people generally would be all over him, possibly even calling for him to resign. How wrong I was.

Kenny read the Irish public's mood correctly - too cast down to speak up. By doing so he won some friends in Davos. Maybe someday they'll be able to return the favor.

{Photo - Michel Euler of the Associated Press.}

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