152 dalai lama

Welcome visitors, and those you could do without

Everybody sooner or late passes through Ireland. It's like the weather. Just about every meteorological manifestation lands on, or passes over the place.

And we all know about Irish weather. There's good, bad and a lot of indifferent.

The Dalai Lama was in Ireland last week and he was certainly welcome, like the sun between April showers.

He slipped in for a few days in what is turning into the year of the headline visitor, what with Prince Albert, Queen Elizabeth and Barack Obama either come and gone or on their way.

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All Ireland needs now is Charlie Sheen. Then again...

Anyway, the spiritual leader of Tibet's Buddhists is one of the good guys, a holy and interesting man. He urged Irish people not to be discouraged or lose hope as they struggle to cope with the country's economic and financial crisis.

Which is all very well, of course. It's frankly hard to imagine the Irish willingly rushing back to an ascetic monastic existence, Christian, Buddhist or any form, after the material largesse of recent memory.

Then again, it's not the worst way of dealing with the current mess, and the mess that looks like being the next few years. You have to give it to the Dalai Lama.

He's like the pope, only with a Vatican that covers a large swathe of central Asia.

Imagine if the Italians decided that the Vatican was too tempting to leave even quasi-independent and decided to kick the pope out of the place and turn the successor of Peter into a globe wandering exile for the rest of his days.

Well, that's what the Chinese did to this man, this good soul.

The Dalai Lama, whose birth name was Tenzin Gyatso, was declared the 14th Dalai Lama as a child, his followers believing him to be a reincarnation of the previous Dalai Lama.

But now the man reckons that his people might have to change things a bit and that they might want to consider the election of a more mature successor, this on the lines of the Catholic Church's election of popes.

Needless to say, he's nervous that the Chinese will pull a fast one and "elect" a rival. You wouldn't blame the man for that.

Be that as it may, the Dalai Lama's Irish sojourn went down very well with the hard pressed Irish. Along the lines of that song with the refrain "don't worry, be happy," he told them that happiness had nothing to do with the amount of money you had.

The locals - reluctant bearers of an albeit revised (lower interest) bailout debt that will still mean the reincarnation of payments from here to as near eternity that counts - really had no choice but to agree.

The rate was lowered a notch after a meeting between finance minister Michael Noonan - a man who can't afford to smile too much near a camera these days - and Ajai Chopra, Deputy Director of the International Monetary Fund European Department, who doesn't seem to be the worst sort but who might want to vary the reason for his Irish visits. A holiday in Kerry perhaps, with lots of spending money.

The Dalai Lama, meanwhile, didn't make it to Kerry, but did hit the ground in Dublin, Kildare and Limerick.

The Irish Times reported that The 2,000-strong crowd at the Citywest Hotel in Dublin gave him a standing ovation as he began his "at times humorous and cheeky speech, none of which was scripted."

It was the man's third trip to the Republic.

Again the Times: "He has made three separate visits to Northern Ireland, in 2000, 2005 and 2007. He paid a one-day visit to the Republic on October 11th, 1973, when he was received at Áras an Uachtaráin by then-president, the late Erskine Childers. He made subsequent visit in March, 1991, two years after he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize."

Yeah, this guy's a welcome visitor anytime.

Not so sure about the folks from Moody's though. Can't say for sure if they actually make footfall on the old sod or gaze at it from afar, but in the same week that the Dalai Lama was urging the Irish not to lose hope, the lads and lassies from the ratings agency stuck the boot into hope yet again.

"Ireland's debt rating was downgraded to just above junk status today amid warnings that austerity plans may not be enough to repair its battered economy," the Irish Independent reported

"Moody's slashed the rating by two notches, to Baa3 - just one move away from a junk rating and the same level as embattled Iceland and Tunisia."

Baa3 Humbug!

Ah, the mad slashers from Moody's. Weren't these guys deemed to have been rather dodgy operators when Wall Street nearly reached the point of reincarnation a while back?

Isn't it just galling that some anonymous agency based in some corporate tower thousands of miles away decides pretty well who you are, what you are, and how allegedly risky you are to do business with.

The same thing happens these days to individuals and families thanks to personal credit ratings agencies that are also dodgy, get their facts wrong much of the time, and don't know you from Adam.

At least in the old days the bank manager had to look you in the eye when telling you to take the hike.

It's a scary thought but more the case than we might care to admit: slavery wasn't really abolished at all, just reconfigured. So now we are, as Rousseau might have put it, free, but for ever in credit rating chains.

In that vein, here was Moody's basically earning fat fees by doing a Debbie Downer on the Irish even as another ratings agency called Fitch actually upgraded the wee Republic's economic prospects. Left hand, right hand. Who are these guys? Do they ever take vacations?

Another horseman of the economic apocalypse to ride into town last week, at least figuratively, was a guy named Lorenzo Bini Smaghi. The Irish Times published a photo of the guy and the face on him! He made the Grinch look like Brad Pitt.

Maybe it was a bad moment when the camera shutter went click. Perhaps he had just been rated by Moody's, but this guy is guaranteed to frighten the bejaysus out of the kids at bedtime, and the grown-ups anytime.

Lorenzo, who definitely won't be elected the next Dali Lama, expressed the view that Irish taxpayers should not complain about having to bailout the country's crisis-hit banks.

He was delivering this like it or lump it message in an op-ed in the Financial Times; so a less than rosy outlook in a pink paper.

Bini Smaghi opined that Ireland's taxpayers - what's left of them at any rate - should foot the bill for the bailout as they were the ones that benefited during the boom years and elected the governments that regulated the banks even as the financial problems were building up.

"The principle of 'no taxation without representation' should work both ways. If taxpayers have the right to share in decision-making, they must also accept the consequences. As long as the accountability of supervisors to taxpayers is primarily a national affair ... then there is a high risk that taxpayers will foot most of the bill. They should not complain when it actually happens," wrote Bini Smaghi.

What a killjoy. Sure all the poor battered Irish have left is their freedom to complain.

No need for Bini Smaghi to visit the broken old sod then. Charlie Sheen just might have to do as the Irish are having to absorb daily torpedoes of home truths either way.