Noonan Plays the Nice Guy but Only Tough Talk Makes Waves in the EU

Article excerpt

Byline: the mary ellen Synon coLUmn

ENDA KENNY and Michael Noonan were in Brussels on Friday evening, not for the first time, but for the first time as the soon-tobe taoiseach and finance minister. So more European journalists than you would expect were hanging around in the lobby of the European Commission headquarters waiting to ask them some questions after their meeting with Jose Manuel Barroso.

Here were the two new boys who will most likely be in charge in desperate Ireland when the markets set off the next spasm of the eurozone crisis. The European press wanted to find out something about them.

This of course left me in an uncomfortable position. I was standing with an American reporter, a correspondent from one of the German newspapers, a Greek and a couple of British reporters. They asked what this new man Kenny was like. Half the impulse at a moment like that is to play for the home team and claim Kenny is much better than Cowen and is quiet but can deliver.

Then the other half remembers that these are the journalists on whom one may depend during the long nights in the European Council press room, desperate for some statistic from Dow Jones or a line on Merkel from Die Welt. Telling them lies is a bad investment. So I told them the truth: 'Unimpressive. Middle management. No good in debate. No big differences in policy from Cowen. Decent guy, though.' Rebellion At that moment, as Kenny approached us showing no more presence than a little butterscotch pony, I heard a voice next to me in the press pack: 'I get it. It's like when a football club goes bust, you always get a c*** manager.' Indeed, but the problem with the encounter was that I learned Mr Noonan may end up being a c*** finance negotiator, too. Judging by his comments to us as Enda Kenny went out into the cold with the RTE crew to attempt a live interview with Brian Dobson, Mr Noonan made it clear that Mr Barroso and the rest of the Brussels bosses need fear no rebellion from him.

He repeated how Fine Gael was the most pro-European party in Ireland and always had been, and how it had supported holding the second referendum and had worked so hard for a Yes vote.

This was all wrong. The visit to Brussels should have been the soon-to-be finance minister putting the commission on notice that things were going to be very different in dealings with Ireland now. Instead, what I heard was the could-be bruiser Noonan trying to present himself as a soft-voiced conciliator, a compromiser. What a disaster he will be if he goes on like that.

The new minister will hold so many strong cards in this game with the loan sharks in Brussels (never forget our so-called 'partners' are profiteering by charging Ireland a 3 per cent premium on the loan they forced us to take).

Yet on Friday evening Mr Noonan made it clear he had already thrown in his hand.

He told us: 'The Irish bailout arrangement has been negotiated and we're in a contractual position as a country.' Tripe. The outgoing Fianna Fail-led government does not have the power to bind the hands of the incoming Dail. The 'contractual position' can be declared null and void because ultimately it was based on misleading information given by the banks to 'Mr Bank Guarantee' Brian Lenihan.

Yet there was Michael Noonan, not even minister yet, already capitulating. He was agreeing to keep the Irish parliament and the Irish people in shackles designed behind closed doors by Mr Lenihan and the European unelected elite acting on behalf of German and French bank speculators.

As I listened to Mr Noonan I could not get David McWilliams's line out of my head: 'Do they know nothing about poker?' Apparently not. Mr Noonan was making it clear he can't - or won't - fight for Ireland against the vested interests of the EU.

One longed for someone to get an iPod plugged into his ears with nothing but a loop of 1958 Elvis playing as a mood-setter ('If you're looking for trouble, you came to the right place'). …