DUBLIN (Reuters) – Former President Bill Clinton Saturday told Ireland’s Prime Minister and the cream of the country’s diaspora that he would host a summit in New York to help boost investment in the euro zone struggler.
A veteran of Europe’s financial crisis, Ireland gathered a mixture of corporate leaders, actors and comedians in Dublin this weekend to discuss ways of accelerating their homeland’s recovery and rebuild its reputation abroad.
While Ireland’s booming export sector and strong record of attracting foreign investment is building a fragile recovery, Clinton told business leaders and politicians they could do more and that he would help them do so at an unspecified date.
“I think the American diaspora can do even more. I may be talking against my country’s interests here but American companies have $2 trillion in cash reserves that they have not yet committed to invest in the United States,” Clinton told a packed hall in the in the plush surroundings of Dublin Castle.
“There’s money there. I think you ought to target the ones that you know are rolling in dough. These are people who are sitting on money. They know you’re a competitive country and they know they can trust you.”
Clinton praised Ireland for taking the steps that has seen it meet targets set under its EU-IMF bailout — saying Greece’s problems were 100-times worse — but added that unemployment and particularly mortgage debt needed to be tackled.
Ireland’s Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who told Clinton the country owed him a debt of honor for generations because of his peace work in Northern Ireland, said Dublin was examining a range of additional facilities to help households deep in mortgage debt.
Sharing a stage with, among others, U2 singer Bono and chief executive of International Airlines Group (IAG) Willie Walsh, Clinton urged Ireland to focus on its strengths in the export market and to tap the goodwill of the Irish Diaspora.
“I think there are huge numbers of people who are proud of the fact that they have Irish heritage but they are not part of these groups right now. They’ve never even thought of investing here yet, nobody ever asked them to,” Clinton said at the Davos-style conference.
“You know you’re good at getting investment from America. You know you’re good at making Americans love you. You know people in America would phoney their genealogical charts to have Irish roots whether they had or not. This is a big deal.”
Around 70 million people worldwide claim Irish descent, nearly 11 times the island’s current population, after huge waves of emigration, mainly to the United States and Britain, in the 19th century following a famine in 1845. Mass emigration continued well into the twentieth century.
U2’s Bono said he would gladly go out and promote the country on specific missions but reminded delegates that they had to do more than just play the ‘Irish card’ to succeed.
“I’m torn on the diaspora thing because it is really significant but in the end things have to be great not just Irish. The tunes have to be great to get on the radio,” said the U2 singer, who entertained delegates by impersonating Clinton while they waited for the president.
(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
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