PAUL CULLEN, Political Staff
US TRIP: FAR FROM celebrating the outcome of the fiscal treaty referendum at home, Minister for Finance Michael Noonan is in the US attending the annual conference of the secretive Bilderberg group.
Mr Noonan is one of 145 invited leaders and opinion formers taking part in the four-day get-together of the western world’s movers and shakers in Chantilly, Virginia.
Goldman Sachs chairman and former attorney general Peter Sutherland is also attending from Ireland, as is Paul Gallagher, another former attorney general.
This year’s conference is focused mainly on political, economic and societal issues, according to a press release from the group. Areas to be covered include “austerity and growth” in developed economies; transatlantic relations; the future of democracy; Russia; China; and the Middle East.
A spokesman for the Minister said the conferences were attended by some of the leading figures in the political and business worlds, so it was important for Ireland to be represented. “You’re better off in than out,” he said.
He added the Minister was working to promote a positive image of Ireland and would use the opportunity to advance Ireland’s case for investment, as well as represent the country’s position on the euro zone crisis.
The attendance at this year’s conference includes former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, former UK chancellor Kenneth Clarke and EU commissioner Joaquín Almunia.
One-time world chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is now a politician in his native Russia, is also in attendance, along with Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte and US senator John Kerry.
Two-thirds of the participants are from Europe, with the balance coming from North America and elsewhere.
Over the years, many leading Irish politicians have attended Bilderberg conferences, including Garret FitzGerald, Charlie McCreevy and Michael McDowell.
Dr FitzGerald’s attendance at the conference in 1985 was the subject of heavy criticism by then Fianna Fáil leader Charles Haughey, who claimed it had links with Nato. Dr FitzGerald rejected the charge, accusing his political rival of paranoia.
Although the group issues a list of participants, meetings take place in private “in order to encourage frank and open discussion”.
No resolutions are proposed at Bilderberg meetings and no votes taken or policy statements issued.