Monday 16 September 2019

Sadly, the economic news was terrific

Amid the global bad news, Gene Kerrigan writes, we got some very good news that we now wish we hadn't

by Tom Halliday
by Tom Halliday
Gene Kerrigan

Gene Kerrigan

The rest of the world may be reeling from bad news, but last week we got the best economic announcement in the history of the State. I'm no economist, but the people who know about these things suggest we got the best economic news any country has ever received.

There's blood on the streets of Nice; tanks have rolled over citizens in Turkey; the Middle East burns; racism is thriving across Europe; but let's take a moment to consider our very, very satisfactory circumstances here at home.

Added to the economic news is the fact that when it comes to replacing Enda Kenny, who is currently doing a lap of honour, we have an embarrassment of political riches. Not all countries are nearly so lucky.

Our closest neighbours, for instance, are in turmoil. Their new prime minister has made a series of duff appointments, but the media tell themselves how clever she's been. In Labour, the MPs have become almost completely alienated from the membership.

(And, by the by, poet Kevin Higgins has been suspended from member- ship of the party for writing poetry in support of Jeremy Corbyn.)

In Turkey, the current chap is an authoritarian gobshite, but an elected authoritarian gobshite. Here's a rule to live by: when soldiers bomb parliament and bring tanks on to the streets, they're probably not doing it for your benefit.

In the USA - whoa, let's not even think of what might happen over there.


Well, we get to choose between Leo or Simon or Frances to lead Fine Gael when Enda toddles off.

You mightn't like any of them, but they're mostly sane. Besides, we've got that astonishing economic news that lifts us to the heights of perpetual prosperity.

It was Tuesday when the Central Statistics Office brought us those amazing figures: the Irish economy as measured by GDP grew by 26.3pc last year. Startling.

The CSO had calculated it grew by 7.8pc, others thought it was half that, but the new figures - wow!

Oh, said some, that'll be the global mega-corporations fiddling the numbers. But, we were told, the domestic economy, as measured by GNP, grew by a stupendous 18.7pc!

Not even when Stalin used to pluck numbers from his backside and announce imaginary great leaps forward did he dare come up with such growth.

Classic American capitalism in the 1950s, powered by high taxes, massive infrastructural growth and a post-war surge of optimism, never dreamt of such figures.

Michael Noonan, the economic genius in charge of our economy, welcomed the CSO figures. The figures showed, said wily Michael, how "Ireland's economy continues to grow". Cheaper borrowing, steady investment and these growth figures - well, says Michael, "these are all evidence of a country growing in real terms".

An embarrassed silence reigned among Irish economists. The odd remark emerged on Twitter, suggesting that this was - well, stark, raving madness.

From the USA, Prof Paul Krugman skewered the CSO with two tweeted words that went around the world, "Leprechaun economics".

And he was right. But so was the CSO. Those figures were not imagined. They weren't a mistake. When the CSO did all the calculations, that's what the figures said: 26.3pc growth.

The CSO knew this was impossible. It was like seeing a statue hop down from a grotto, belly up to the bar and say: "A Cointreau on crushed ice, please."

You see it, but you know it can't be true.

But those were the figures, and the CSO had to report them.

The Financial Times said: "The question is whether the Irish economy has become so distorted by its tax regime that nobody knows what is happening on the ground."

The good news was so off-the-charts that right across the world they're still laughing. Everyone now knows the system is so banjaxed that the official state body for checking Irish statistics hasn't the foggiest what's going on.

The FT pointed to evidence that the economy has, in fact, contracted. We may be heading into recession. No one knows.

This is a consequence of the FF and FG policy of pimping out Ireland as a tax whore. If your corporation is big enough, we'll let you do what you want - just stick a brass plate on your office and we'll bend over and won't ask questions. Imaginary hundreds of billions flow through our national veins.

All the stuff about "confidence" and "reputation" - the billions spent, the austerity imposed, the primacy of banking and business, all so much bullshit.

It cost €180m just to wind down Anglo Irish. (I know a guy who would've done it for the price of a box of firelighters.)

And all blown away by the fact that the CSO - a basic tool of a modern economy - is lost in a swamp of numerical fantasy.

Here's how bad it is.

The Minister for Finance, lauded by journalists as "wily" Michael Noonan, welcomed the fantasy figures.

Some might imagine he was pretending, to make himself look good, but that's patently not true. Noonan believed the figures.

Just like he believed his own figures in the Budget, until they had to be corrected by Pearse Doherty. He was out then by billions - billions.

Now, he's out by tens of billions.

And Enda, and the would-be successors to his crown? Equally clueless. Nice people, no doubt, but cool with the leprechaun economics.

Until the world started laughing, and next day ministers - including wily Michael Noonan - were giving us the we-knew-that-all-along routine.

The consequences of years of ignorant, knee-jerk, right-wing austerity include queues growing for soup kitchens, couples sleeping in doorways and children living in B&Bs.

And now there is no government, no boardroom, no investor on the planet that takes at face value anything this State says.

Meanwhile, the Dail is to close for nine weeks, and spend €700,000 on a new sound system, all the better to hear our TDs.

Recently, watching Oireachtas TV, I could hear Niall Collins just fine.

Sinn Fein proposed a measure to help hard-working people exploited by zero-hour contracts. FF collaborated with FG to kick it into the long grass.

As a new SF TD spoke, Collins kept up the following intellectual intervention:

"What did Sinn Fein do in the North of Ireland? Sinn Fein did nothing. What about Austins in Derry? Sinn Fein did nothing for them either."

The Ceann Comhairle pleaded with him to stop. It went on.

"What has Sinn Fein done for workers in the North of Ireland? They did nothing while they were in government. They did nothing, and they come in here and they cry crocodile tears. They did nothing for workers. Austins in Derry. What has Sinn Fein done for them? Austins in Derry."

This, by the way, is from the official Dail record. "What has Sinn Fein done for them? It has done nothing. Sinn Fein is doing nothing for workers. Sinn Fein is doing nothing for workers in the North of Ireland and the Deputy is crying crocodile tears."

And, on and on.

Not to be bested, the FG benches joined in the mindless harassment.

No, I still don't think tanks are the solution, but it's a close-run thing.

Sunday Independent

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