Friday 28 October 2016

NTMA deserves praise for a job well done

Published 08/01/2014 | 02:30

YESTERDAY'S bond sale was great news for Ireland. It was a clear sign that overseas investor confidence in this country is high. In fact, it is higher by some measures than countries such as Italy and Spain which currently have to pay more to borrow than we do.

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The enthusiastic response of investors to Irish bonds yesterday had the happy side effect of helping to bring down the cost of borrowing for many other countries such as Portugal and also pushed European shares higher. It was reassuring to see that Ireland's good fortune was helping other countries just as our problems in recent years hit neighbours in the eurozone hard as well.

We took a risk when we left the bailout last month without some sort of precautionary backstop but yesterday's sale goes to show how far Ireland's reputation has been restored internationally.

There are many reasons why we can now borrow at 3.54pc -- compared to the 9.1pc just before we were forced into the bailout -- but special praise should go to the National Treasury Management Agency which worked for many months behind the scenes to make yesterday's auction a success.

The NTMA's employees have been travelling regularly to the world's financial centres for years to drum up interest in Irish bonds and sell the Irish recovery story. It takes a certain amount of grit to sit in rooms all day as bond traders scoffed at the story of Ireland's calamitous decline and slow redemption.

Some will say, not without reason, that the NTMA's employees are well paid for their work. Others will say that many other people have endured more hardship than giving power point presentations to bored traders.

That is all true but it misses the point. Like the IDA, the NTMA is an organisation that sells Ireland very well. Yesterday was the NTMA's day and we all benefited from that organisation's skill and persistence over the last few years.

It is popular to bash state agencies and there are undoubtedly many pointless, expensive quangos in Ireland these days but we also have some organisations that do an excellent job.


For a man noted for his quick wit and repartee, the Minister for Communications Energy and Natural Resources Pat Rabbitte has a habit of putting his foot in it. Questioned on 'Morning Ireland' about the pylon issue, he came across as somewhat arrogant and condescending towards those who have genuine and well-founded fears about the impact of the pylon corridors that will criss-cross the country if the EirGrid plan goes ahead.

"This is a huge infrastructural investment that you can't change at the whim of some passing fashion," he said. Mr Rabbitte quickly clarified this was a reference to why the issue will not be decided before the local elections next year and not to people's concerns about the project itself.

In opposition Mr Rabbitte came across as something of a "loveable rascal" but as a government minister he has a tendency to make flippant remarks which can be easily misinterpreted by detractors.

Mr Rabbitte also claimed that underground cables instead of pylon corridors would add €2bn to the cost of the project, or 3pc to a consumer's electricity bills over the next 50 years.

While nobody wants increased bills, electricity prices have increased by 21pc since 2011, without any improvement in service. Maybe electricity users would be prepared to pay that much extra in the interest of preserving great swathes of the landscape from the intrusion of pylons.

Mr Rabbitte also pointed out yesterday that it is likely the EirGrid project will still be in the planning process at the next general election.

Whether he likes it or not responsibility for it will lie squarely with his department and the current Government, something that is already making some rural coalition TDs nervous indeed.

Irish Independent

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