Tuesday 24 October 2017

It might be a tough job, but there is no shortage of aspirants for top finance post

There are 25 of them. Some are alive, others deceased. Some did the job several times, others just the once.

In terms of profession, they range from arms smugglers (Michael Collins), to architects (Ruairi Quinn), to accountants (Charles Haughey), to economists (Alan Dukes) to barristers (Brian Lenihan).

Ireland's Ministers for Finance are an eclectic group, but one thing unites most of them -- they tend to be deeply unpopular by the time they finish the job.

This fact doesn't appear to diminish the attractiveness of the role for generations of Irish politicians. If you can't be Taoiseach, the apex of any political career in Ireland is becoming Minister for Finance. Some would argue that in terms of raw political power, the finance ministry at Merrion Street is where the real corridors of power are to be found.

It also happens to be the ideal place to launch a bid to become Taoiseach, just ask Brian Cowen, Bertie Ahern, Albert Reynolds or John Bruton. Political watchers like to suggest that nobody can ever become Taoiseach unless they cross the threshold at Merrion Street, at least once.

This is broadly true, although Enda Kenny could shortly disrupt the historical record by becoming Taoiseach without any previous experience in a finance ministry.

The ever changing fortunes of the Irish economy do not seem to make the ministry any less attractive to the politically ambitious.

We are currently in the grip of the deepest downturn in modern Irish history.

A total of €15bn in cuts and tax hikes are still being put through the system and the country is still unable to borrow money at sustainable rates in the bond market. But there is still a queue of aspiring finance ministers looking to take the helm of an economy that appears to be in freefall.

Why? Power is the primary explanation. Secondly, politicians still firmly believe they can solve major problems, however intractable. But thirdly, time spent in the finance ministry can actually be enjoyable. For example one gets to meet some of the most powerful figures in world finance and also shape policy in a European context.

Whatever the reason, the lustre of the job shows no sign of dimming and some of Ireland's most powerful politicians currently covet the job.

Below is a guide to the aspirant Finance Ministers and their chances of snatching the role as Ireland heads for a general election.

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