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Warning on ‘borrowing for every project’ as national debt could balloon to €260bn after pandemic

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NTMA chief executive Conor O'Kelly. Picture: Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography.

NTMA chief executive Conor O'Kelly. Picture: Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography.

NTMA chief executive Conor O'Kelly. Picture: Chris Bellew /Fennell Photography.

IRELAND’s National Debt could explode to €260 billion by the end of the pandemic tail, financial chiefs admitted today.

Such a figure would mean an individual debt burden of €52,000 for every man, woman and child in the country, the population of the Republic having just exceeded 5 million.

The current debt burden per person is €43,000.

“We have to very careful with this level of elevated debt,” said Conor O’Kelly, chief executive of the National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) in an appearance before the Dáil Public Accounts Committee.

“You can’t just keep borrowing for every project. I think we need to get the books back in order,” he told politicians at PAC.

“One of the reasons we could respond and pull levers was that we were in a good position, with budget surpluses,” he said.

At a level of National Debt running to €250bn to €260bn, “the more prone you are to future risks,” he said.

“You have less and less capacity [to react], for obvious reasons.”

Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy told the meeting the level of National Debt had reached €219.5bn at the end of last year.

This was a rise of €12.7 billion, or 6pc, on the 2019 level, he added.

The NTMA chief’s warning is the latest expression of worry over the national books, following concerns expressed by the ESRI and the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, set up in the wake of the financial crisis over a decade ago.

But the meeting also heard that Ireland has one of the longest and smoothest repayment calendars when it comes to maturities, with no “chimney” in any particular year.

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