Westlife call for Irish 'positivity'

By Simon Atkinson
Business reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
Westlife had a single called Us Against The World

In his assessment of the Irish economy, Nicky Byrne is blunt.

"Things are very bad," he says.

"But when things are bad you need to dig deep and pull together. We're a good enough nation to do that."

It may sound like the clarion call of a politician trying to rally a nation that is down on its luck.

But for those more familiar with the markets section of the Financial Times than the showbiz pages of the Sun, Byrne is a member of Irish pop group Westlife.

And in an unusual interview with the BBC World Service, the band, who in 2001 released a cover of Billy Joel's Uptown Girl, have proven they are upbeat boys, expressing confidence that their beloved homeland can bounce back from its current financial malaise - and that, guess what, music could provide a little help.

'Doom and gloom'

The four-member group, who first found fame with hits including Swear It Again and Flying Without Wings, are among the Republic of Ireland's most successful exports.

And in an antidote to much of the gloom expressed on the streets of Dublin over the prospect of a massive EU-backed bailout, Byrne was upbeat.

"The international media and even the homegrown media sometimes say everything is down and gloomy," he says.

"But there is a lot of positivity still in Ireland. Irish people as a whole are good people. We've done it before and we'll do it again."

As well as being a multi-millionaire pop star Byrne has close links to politics, as the son-in-law of former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.

Mr Ahern, who was in power between 1997 and 2008, earlier this year accepted some responsibility for the economic crisis - acknowledging that property-based tax incentives brought in under his leadership should have been abolished earlier, which may have reined in the property boom which has played a large part in the country's strife.

With the Republic trying to slash its deficit from more than 14% to 3% and the nation's banks needing bailing out by the government at a cost of 45bn euros (£39bn; $60.1bn) there are serious concerns about the prospect of Ireland's economic recovery.

But Byrne's bandmate Kian Egan thinks that most people still hold the country in high esteem.

"I don't think the image of Ireland is down," he says.

"The people are down, but Ireland is the most beautiful country in the world and the people are some of the friendliest in the world."

Ireland would bounce back, Egan added, saying visitors would not stay away.

"Anyone who has ever been knows it's a fantastic country for a pint of Guinness, a night in the pub, a bit of a laugh. The surf here is amazing, there's so many great things here. Tourism will come back up big again."

'Best trait'

The band admitted that their latest single, Safe - whose lyrics pledge "If you lost your way I will keep you safe" - is "quite ironic" given the seemingly inevitable help and protection their homeland is going to need from Europe and beyond.

"That wasn't involved in the single choice, let me assure you," says Shane Filan.

But he believes that music - be it an uptempo song or a concert - is "one thing that can keep people's spirits a bit higher".

"You know, Ireland is very musical, it's our best international trait," Filan says.

"The nation, financially, is in trouble at the moment but there are serious problems all round the world and everyone has to try and dig deep and fix it."

Fourth band member, Mark Feehily agrees chiming in: "If everyone gets doomy and gloomy then there's going to be nobody to pick everyone up.

"It's important that there is positivity out there."

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