independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

Rabbitte has no fear of looking his grandchildren in the eye

The Labour minister is confident that the debt deal will benefit this and future generations

Pat Rabbitte

In a face-to-face interview on Friday afternoon, Pat Rabbitte seemed annoyed at a suggestion that the promissory note deal will do no more than heap debt on future generations. Half-way through the interview, however, the dictaphone broke down, wiping what had been recorded and thousands of hours of other recorded material.

Through circumstance, it was not possible to conduct a face-to-face interview again, so the Sunday Independent sent questions by email to the minister and he sent his replies by email that night.

The questions and answers were broadly similar to what had been recorded and deleted earlier. The email interview was conducted without recourse to follow-up questions.

In his replies by email, it was clear that he had subsequently rationalised the deal as follows: unless so constructed, "more and more of our grandchildren will be born outside Ireland". He had not said that face to face.

Furthermore, Mr Rabbitte's barb at David McWilliams was not contained in an original question. But it was clear, face to face, that he was anxious to have a go at the economist, so he was afforded the opportunity by email to do so, which he took.

By way of further background, it may be relevant to state how the interview came about.

For the first time in the two years of this Government, Labour made unsolicited contact on Friday morning to offer me an article by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin.

Shortly afterwards, the party offered an interview with Pat Rabbitte instead.

It would seem that Labour is anxious to seek political advantage from the deal as negotiated, but is also anxious not to be seen to be overtly doing so.

The following morning, an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll showed Labour at 10 per cent, almost half the support it had in the general election. The poll was taken before the deal was announced last Thursday.

In the face-to-face encounter, Mr Rabbitte had admitted that Labour had made a "poor job" of explaining to the people the "need" for the Government to do what it is doing, but he did not repeat that by email.

From the meeting with Mr Rabbitte, and subsequently by email, I would like to add that it seemed to me that he – and Labour – are resolutely determined to stay the course.

Further observations: there remains a shard of ice in his heart, which is a good thing; as we know, he can be spiteful, as per his barb at McWilliams; it is not accurate to say that he intends stay to the course for his political pension, or rather, just for his pension.

He seems to have the interests of the country at heart and is convinced that the Government is on the right course.

And finally, while he tried to rattle me when we met (he was barking up the wrong tree), I should also say that, all things considered, I still like Pat Rabbitte, warts and all – just about – even though his need to always grind axes can be irritating.

He also looked well in a new Louis Copeland suit. Nice one, Louis.

Jody Corcoran: What age are you, Pat?

Pat Rabbitte: 63.

JC: If you live until you are 90, what will you tell your grandchildren when they accuse you of selling out their future?

PR: I will tell them that Ireland was in the pawnshop when I came into Government and that we redeemed the country step by painful step with the tolerance of the people; that the deal on the promissory note was a milestone on the road to economic recovery. An albatross has been lifted off the shoulders of the people. But it is only a beginning.

JC: So you expect the ECB to ease its deflationary policies?

PR: Flaws have been exposed in the architecture of the euro. But under Mr Draghi's leadership the ECB has gradually been moving to play, within its constraints, a more progressive role. Economic policy is primarily a matter for the member states.

JC: If the Anglo Irish/Nationwide debt could not be written off, then surely it follows that the BoI/AIB /EBS debt can't be written off either?

PR: The ECB has set its face against writing off debt. However, the decision on June 29, separating private debt from sovereign debt, offers the prospect of more creative solutions. The price paid by Ireland to contain contagion was disproportionate and warrants burden-sharing. Patient diplomacy towards that goal must continue.

JC: So you intend to heap that debt onto your grandchildren as well?

PR: Without the steps being taken towards regaining our sovereignty and towards restoring economic recovery, more and more of our grandchildren will be born outside Ireland. Economic recovery offers the prospect of our young people being able to get jobs at home and contribute their talents to the Irish economy.

JC: Now that you've seen just how difficult it is to negotiate with the ECB over a two-year period, can you appreciate how difficult it was for the Fianna Fail-led government to negotiate a deal over a two-month period while a gun was being held to its head?

PR: The Fianna Fail-led government had a full year from the run on Northern Rock (in Britain) to the infamous all-embracing bank guarantee and they did nothing to ensure that the regulatory authority was doing its job.

Instead, they bet the deeds of the country in the foolish hope that the bet would not be called in. They created the circumstances where conditions were imposed on the then government and its successor(s).

The Fianna Fail government was asleep at the wheel and deserves no sympathy. Look at the hardship they have caused so many people.

JC: The last time you did an interview with the Sunday Independent you expressed frustration that a banker had not yet been before the courts. Are you still so frustrated? Less so or more so?

PR: I remain frustrated that it takes unconscionably long to arraign people suspected of wrongdoing in the white-collar domain.

JC: While the deal on the promissory note bank debt has been widely welcomed, although not by David McWilliams, when will we see a dividend in terms of economic growth?

PR: Well, David McWilliams claimed for a month or so that he was the author of the bank guarantee. And that he persuaded the late Brian Lenihan of the merits of such a guarantee and the late Finance Minister chewed garlic in Mr McWilliams' kitchen.

Maybe the Fianna Fail-Green government didn't implement the guarantee as intended by Mr McWilliams – I don't know. But I do know that the bank guarantee, as implemented, was a disaster and that the Labour Party alone opposed it. This deal is only one factor in economic growth but it creates confidence and enhances the country's reputation.

JC: So is the real dividend the psychological lift this deal is to give the country?

PR: Our people and our wealth creators badly need a psychological lift and the elimination of Anglo Irish Bank and the destruction of the promissory notes on the terms negotiated comprise a definite psychological boost.

JC: Psychological lifts can be short-lived though, can't they?

PR: Eaten bread is always soon forgotten. This deal alone won't restore economic growth. But it means we won't have to borrow €20bn, it helps our prospects of market access and it takes one billion a year off the deficit.

Irish Independent

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