Tuesday 25 October 2016

Shane Ross: Ministers give mob a morphine fix

Shane Ross

Published 13/01/2013 | 13:06

THE scene: The annual cabinet New Year's lunch in Government Buildings on Merrion Street, Dublin 2.

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Michael Noonan: Terrible year, great lunch. Another brandy, Brendan? What's planned for 2013?

Brendan Howlin: No brandy thanks — pass the morphine, Michael.

Michael: Morphine? Are you hallucinating, Howlin?

Brendan: Oh, I never told you. I had it stored, gallons of it, in the vaults here in Merrion Street. A little item of expenditure which I slipped past the mandarins. Our secret weapon for 2013.

Michael: Morphine? Why morphine?

Brendan: Not for me. For our witch doctors to serve to the masses. The mob is feeling the pain. We must make them feel good in the months to come. 2013 is the year of Operation Morphine.

Michael: What are you plotting?

Brendan: Good news by the bucketful. We will tell the people that we have finally turned the corner. Every measure will be mixed with morphine. We will pump out the hype about the improving health of the economy. The mob will believe that their own personal financial health is getting better too.

Michael: Operation Morphine, eh? When do we start?

Brendan: It is already at full throttle. Did you not see the stories about the great December retail sales? The numbers puzzled a few clever clogs, but they fooled the mob. Retail sales were up in December.

Some suckers even began to ask if the downturn was over!

Michael: Of course, December's sales figures were up.

Sure, didn't they collapse in November because the entire population was scared stiff of my December Budget? The people stopped spending for a month. They played catch-up in December.

Brendan: And there were five shopping weekends in December.

The mob took the morphine, so they never noticed.

Michael: Hopefully Angela Merkel and Mario Draghi were fooled too. I am at my wits' end about how to fool the little Italian central banker.

He is running rings around me on the Anglo promissory notes.

Brendan: Don't worry about the Anglo notes. We will drench the final deal with morphine and magic dust. The masses will be hypnotised.

Look, Operation Morphine is in full swing. Michael, you must have seen December's jobless figures? We saturated them with the painkiller.

Michael: But Brendan, they were dreadful.

Brendan: Of course they were, but we buried the bad news in the small print. The media headlines said the raw jobless numbers were down. And they are. Operation Morphine deals in headlines. Beneath the headlines lies the rotten truth.

Michael: What rotten truth?

Brendan: The headline figure showed a drop of 1,400.

We spun it as a turnaround! Of course, the morphine masked the real pain. Long-term unemployment rose by 3.5 per cent on the year. The number of long-term jobless women rose by 10 per cent. Happily the press release did not mention the great taboo — emigration.

Thank God for emigration, the invisible masseur of jobless figures. Under-25s are leaving in their droves.

Michael (standing): Let's drink a toast to Canada and Australia, the twin hosts to Ireland's jobless. And we can tell the mob that we stabilised unemployment by ourselves.

But Brendan , why are the jobless figures still at 14.6 per cent, despite emigration?

Brendan: Ask Richard Bruton over there. Hi Richard, tell Michael how you included Enterprise Ireland and the IDA in Operation Morphine.

Are all the quangos co-operating fully with our good-news baloney? Richard: Great evening, lads.

Did you by any chance water the brandy, Michael ? Tastes a bit weak. One of the cutbacks? My guys in Enterprise Ireland and the IDA would never tolerate such penny-pinching.

Oh yes, we gave a press conference to a sleepy media about Enterprise Ireland "creating" 13,000 jobs in 2012.

Thanks to Operation Morphine, we buried the bit about how it lost 9,000 of them! We call them "supported" jobs.

Of course they are "subsidised" jobs, bought by the taxpayer to keep the dole queues shorter. Both my state agencies fell into line with Operation Morphine.

And have you squared the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA), teed them up for any spectaculars, Michael? Wheel them out. The masses still believe they are magicians.

Michael: Done. They pulled a great stunt last week. The NTMA geniuses borrowed €2.5bn at 3.3 per cent . It was heralded by their witch doctors as another breakthrough at a new low yield.

Like Richard with Enterprise Ireland, we should parade the mighty managers for a photocall. The mob will swallow the potion, because they will not have a bull's notion whether or not this is a good deal. I have a dark feeling that the NTMA is paying over the odds. Give me a shot of morphine, quick.

Brendan: Apparently Central Bank Governor Honohan also thinks Ireland is paying too much. Can we silence him? Others murmur that Germany, the UK , and the US are paying less than 1 per cent. Indeed, Holland is borrowing at 0.318 per cent, about one-tenth of the cost to us. Are the markets making mugs of us?

Michael: Probably. Spike the Governor's milk with morphine.

Otherwise he will wake up the masses.

Brendan: In vino veritas, Michael. And opposition TDs are even asking why the NTMA — if they are such clever guys — borrowed billions at a sky-high rate of nearly 6 per cent a few months ago when they could have raised the lot today at only 3 per cent. What is so brilliant about that?

Michael: In my book that type of talk is treason. Why would we pay NTMA chief Corrigan over €400,000 a year if he is borrowing at foolish rates?

Brendan: Good question, Michael. Don't go there.

Remember all the wonderful things we have said about John and his superquango.

Michael: I myself pulled an even better stunt last week. I dumped €1bn of our Bank of Ireland bonds onto a surprised market. Global traders were knifing each other for the stock, as they yield 10 per cent.

The demand was five times oversubscribed. I am portraying the sale as overseas confidence in our prospects of recovery; Ireland is on the way back to the markets, you know, the usual guff.

Brendan: Ahem . Why we are selling a bond that yields us 10 per cent and then borrowing in the markets at three per cent? Why did dealers froth at the mouth as they scrambled for a slice of the deal? Is Honohan right? Are we borrowing at too high a rate and selling stocks for a song?

Michael: We had better divert the Governor. He knows too much. Tell him to rabbit on about growth , how our economy is growing instead; about how other European economies are contracting while our exports are booming.

Brendan: Some bright spark will point out that our growth forecasts have been consistently laced with magic dust, only to be downgraded as reality dawns. Today we are projecting 1.5 per cent for 2013.

The new Nevin Institute predicts just 0.6 per cent. We could have egg all over our faces if we keep spinning the same yarn.

Michael: Give the guys with the beards a dose of morphine.

Oh hello, Taoiseach, great lunch, what is it? Enda Kenny: Michael, just heard David Murphy on the RTE news. He said that there was massive interest in our AIB bonds after you dumped the Bank of Ireland billion as a gift to the market.

There is a stampede of global bond dealers on the phone, seeking to buy our AIB bonds on the same terms. They are asking if we made a mistake.

There is a traffic jam of traders blocking Merrion Street. I told them you were here.

Michael: Pass the morphine.

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