Sunday 18 August 2019

Brendan O'Connor: 'A brief rumble of distant thunder'

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Brendan O'Connor

Brendan O'Connor

Things were pootling along nicely. The sun had come out in fits and starts but enough to put on your shades and act like it was summer. The kids were off school, the traffic had eased and the sea wasn't full of excrement for the time being.

In what seemed like an anomaly, the Dail was still sitting, but it had degenerated into cranky pre-summer bickering, which would eventually culminate in the rather astonishing moment when the Taoiseach suggested the leader of the opposition was like a sinning priest. It's fair to say no one saw that coming, even Leo, who seemed to only realise what he was saying when it came out of his mouth.

So nothing of consequence was happening. Even Brexit seemed parked for the time being, while the Tory party tore itself apart again. And then, in what you imagine would have been an unremarkable, procedural sitting of the Public Accounts Committee, a guy most people had never heard of, called Conor O'Kelly, dropped a kind of a blindingly obvious bombshell, but one that sent a chill through the country. O'Kelly, head of the NTMA, seemed to speak quite plainly for a governmenty kind of guy, when he said, "People talk about whether the bond markets are predicting a recession. I'll give a prediction. The chances of a recession in Ireland are 100pc."

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Now, just like we know we're going to die someday, we know there's going to be a recession someday, too. But there was something about the way O'Kelly said it, like some fast-talking guy from an old movie: "Hey sport, you wanna prediction? I'll give you a prediction." Not only are we not used to such straight talk from a guy in a suit, the fact he is head of the NTMA, which is one of the few state agencies that doesn't make a balls of things all the time, made it all the more serious.

And despite the relatively warm weather, a nation, still traumatised from the last recession, shivered a little. And we thought about it a bit, and said, if what we're experiencing right now is a massive boom, how bad is a recession going to be?

O'Kelly went on to remind us that despite interest rates being low right now, we have paid €60bn in interest on our national debt in the last 10 years, and we borrowed most of the money to pay that interest. He then reminded us of a fact we often manage to forget. That we are up to our wazoo in debt, and it was nearly all from foreigners, and it puts us at massive risk.

And we digested all this, and briefly considered not having that second pint. And then Leo went to Center Parcs and said he likes Maura from Love Island, and we all said: "He said Maura from Love Island", and we promptly forgot all that scary talk at the PAC, and summer rolled on.

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