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Soft power and the green jersey

County View

County View
John Healy

On this small island of Ireland, we are particularly good at the art of networking. Give an Irish person a couple of hours to work on it, and soon he/she can make a connection with any other Irish person – a friend of a friend, a shared college contact, a brother who played football with your man’s second cousin.
And when we go abroad, the bonds of Irishness grow even stronger. People who would hardly give each other the time of day at home are transformed into the closest of pals when set down in Perth or Atlanta or a mining town in Botswana.
It is a quality we have brought with us to foreign climes, where our innate geniality and good nature opens doors that remain closed to our more-rigid, tight-lipped European neighbours. Allied to a readiness to don the green jersey in times of perilous national crisis, it all adds up to a power that, although absent at most other times, goes far above our station. When we really unite, we are capable of great things.
And so, when Paschal Donohue phoned Bono a couple of Saturdays ago to ask him to help out on the Covid-19 crisis, he was pushing an open door. The Minister for Finance is not, one suspects, in the habit of calling the rock star just to shoot the breeze. The Government needed some heavy hitters to help out in sourcing equipment from China. Could Bono help? And would he help? He could, came the answer, and he would.
Before long, the ‘soft power’ of the Irish was put into action. Bono made contact with, among others, billionaire business tycoon Jack Ma of Alibaba. Irish aircraft-leasing company Avalon was roped in. Liam Casey, a veteran of trade with China, was recruited. Bono made a personal commitment of €10 million to the initiative, and before long the first consignment of seventy tons of PPE was on its way to Irish hospitals.
On the other side of the world, several hundred Irish people were trapped in Peru, their dreams of traversing South America having come to a shuddering halt. Against a background of European backpackers being blamed for bringing the Covid-19 virus into Peru, commercial flights out of the country were closed at a day’s notice, and even travel between the country’s regions had been stopped.
The Irish Government was in a quandary. We don’t have an embassy in Peru (that country is served by the mission in Chile), so our leverage was very limited. And then somebody remembered that the Peruvian Foreign Affairs Minister, Meza Cuadra, had once served as his country’s representative to the United Nations in New York, where the Peruvians had developed a warm friendship with their Irish counterparts. So phone calls were made, and old friendships renewed, and Simon Coveney was given a direct line to speak to Meza Cuadra. Approval was secured for a special evacuation flight to bring the Irish home. And the old Irish skills of networking had delivered again.
Meanwhile, over in Australia, a thousand Irish citizens – including the doctors who had answered the call to come home to help in the crisis – found themselves stranded when commercial flights came to a halt. But, as always, there was an Irish solution. And what better ally could a country wish for than Alan Joyce from Tallaght, the CEO of Qantas.
The green jersey was donned, and, behind the scenes, repatriation arrangements were put in place. A special charter flight was laid on to bring the Irish home.
Soft power, as Paschal Donohoe puts it, can work wonders, and those intangible Irish qualities, so unique to our temperament and culture, are assets priceless beyond measure.