Tuesday 24 April 2018

Central Bank makes direct appeal to voters ahead of General Election

The Central Bank in Dublin
The Central Bank in Dublin
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

The Central Bank's chief economist has urged voters and political parties to be cautious and prudent given the extent of the risks facing the economy.

As parties prepare for the General Election, both chief economist Gabriel Fagan and newly installed governor Philip Lane called on the next government to do more to slash debt and deficit levels.

Despite the global markets turmoil and concern of a slowdown in China, the bank gave an upbeat assessment of the economy overall, saying the pick-up in spending and continuing strength of employment growth confirms that a "convincing" recovery is well established.

The bank's latest quarterly bulletin said the performance of the economy reflects a recovery which is broad based and has increasingly come to be driven by a significant rebound in domestic demand.

Growth last year as measured by GDP was estimated at 6.6pc, and is forecast to ease to 4.8pc this year and 4.4pc in 2017, it said.

But Mr Fagan said that despite the strong numbers, there are significant risks, from both the high, although declining, levels of both public and private debt, and the threat posed to the global economy.

He repeatedly urged prudence, and said his call wasn't confined to politicians.

"It's a message not just to parties; it's a message to the country as a whole, to the voters and to society as whole," he said.

"We've done a lot of progress; tremendous achievements have been made on the fiscal side. But be careful, there are risks out there, there are vulnerabilities there, so be cautious and be prudent. That's essentially our message."

Mr Fagan said if there is scope, more should be done to slash both the debt and deficit to build up "as many buffers as can be built up".

"If it is at all possible, given the risks that the economy faces, to go for a more ambitious, a faster pace of deficit reduction, which would imply a faster pace of debt reduction," he said.

"Serious consideration should be given to using that [fiscal] space, given the vulnerabilities that the economy faces."

It was a view echoed by Governor Lane later at the Oireachtas Finance Committee, when he said the next government needs to focus on reducing debt levels.

"You're about to go to election mode, but I would hope that the next government takes seriously that you have to reconcile not just genuine public spending needs, but also the importance of getting back to a safe level of public debt. No easy task," he said.

Oil extended its slide below $30 a barrel yesterday and Chinese stocks took another plunge amid concern about the country's slowing economy and confusion over China's central bank's foreign exchange policy.

Luca Onorante, the Central Bank's acting head of monetary policy, said there is considerable uncertainty facing the global economy.

"There is uncertainty from the financial side, there is uncertainty about the numbers, there is uncertainty about what the connections are between a change in monetary policy in the United States and to what extend it may affect other emerging market economies, especially those that have a high level of debt in dollars," he said.

"This is a global phenomena, but the numbers as we have shown them today are subject to a clear downward risk."

The bank's latest quarterly bulletin, despite the risks posed, sates that Ireland is going through a period of "exceptional" growth. The bank said outside factors have also contributed to the strong recovery, including lower energy prices.

"Growth has also benefited from a more benign policy environment, reflected in both the easing of the pace of fiscal consolidation and continued favourable financial conditions, while additional support has been provided by the ongoing improvement in household and firm balance sheets and continued favourable financial conditions in Ireland's main export markets."

Rising employment has helped stimulate a strong pick-up in consumer spending, which last year grew at its fastest rate since 2007.

The bulletin said domestic demand is expected to be the main driver of growth over the coming period, with a robust outlook for both consumption and investment spending.

Irish Independent

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