Former US president Bill Clinton tonight told the Government the bailing out of the banks was the right decision.
Mr Clinton joined hundreds of influential figures from the Irish diaspora for the second day of a major forum in Dublin to help Ireland’s economic recovery.
He told delegates the world thinks better of Ireland than many Irish think of the country, with a lot of resources and wealth still untapped.
“This country made a big macro economic decision when you made up your mind that you would save your financial structure and not be seen as defaulting on your debt,” he said.
“And I’m sure it made a lot of people mad because they thought we’re helping people who profited out of our misery.
“It was the right decision.”
Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore greeted Mr Clinton in the historic courtyard of Dublin Castle before they entered a packed St Patrick’s Hall.
Almost 300 delegates – including top names from the worlds of business, culture and industry – waited anxiously inside for their keynote speaker.
In his 35 minute address, Mr Clinton revealed he intends to host a special summit in America to bring together senior business leaders and economic experts aimed at promoting foreign direct investment in Ireland. A date will be announced in the future.
He also advised Ireland to use its diaspora to better the country, to find countries it was not yet exporting to, to implement aggressive Government policy to attract manufacturing back, and to chase investment from American based multi-nationals.
“Target the companies rolling in the dough,” he added.
Government ministers were joined by Hilary and W Galen Weston, who this year topped the Irish Sunday Times rich list, Irial Finan of Coca-Cola, PJ Hough, corporate vice-president of Microsoft and Peter Sutherland of Goldman Sachs at the event.
Businessmen Dermot Desmond and Denis O’Brien, and Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines, are also involved in the forum, which included plenary sessions focusing on making the Republic more competitive overseas, promoting Irish culture and job creation.
Bono, who had arrived moments before Mr Clinton, said the forum was a really important idea.
“Everybody needs to listen to each other on these subjects to see what they can learn,” he added.
It is the second time an Government has convened the Global Irish Economic Forum to gather ideas to kick-start the economy.
The first global economic forum, under the previous Fianna Fáil/Green Party administration, was held in the leafy Farmleigh Estate in Phoenix Park in September 2009.
Mr Clinton said he had been told by the country's leaders they had already decided “not to throw homeowners out of their homes'”.
“But when you carry around as much unresolved debt as we have and you have because of the housing crisis it’s almost impossible to return to a full employment economy because your own people are afraid to spend,” he continued.
“They actually save more which is a personal virtue but a collective problem in a downturn in which interest rates are virtually zero and there’s not enough demand.
“Even if you recapitalise the banks they are reluctant to lend and people are reluctant to borrow.
“The only way to do it is deleverage the economy.”
Mr Clinton told his captive audience he believed in Ireland.
He admitted there was no perfect solution to the debt crisis, but said Ireland had to decide how to get its macroeconomic house in order and what things need to be done to help recovery.
“Everybody in the world thinks you have done an unbelievable job in managing a miserable situation,” he said.
“But that’s cold comfort to the people who don’t have enough money to buy a suit, much less make a mortgage payment and are worried they’ll never have a job. I understand that.”
Mr Clinton said concentrating on exports and the diaspora is a good idea.
“I think this should be viewed as an exciting time for all,” he added. “You have to create the Ireland of the 21st century.”
Meanwhile Mr Gilmore told the closing session of the forum the scale of the challenge facing Ireland is matched by the scale of Government’s effort and ambition.
“What matters now, is that we take away the thoughts and ideas of yesterday and today, and turn them into action tomorrow,” he added.