Tuesday 19 November 2019

Showing US we can do it is a tough task

IT may be a cruel irony, but Ireland is a more appealing place in which to invest than it was during the boom and bubble. There are an abundance of able young people, and experienced older ones, desperate for a job; office and factory space are to be had at bargain basement prices; and a humbled government system will be more attentive -- within reason, of course -- to the requirements of investors.

It might seem, therefore, that there is no reason for the Taoiseach to jet off to the US to explain that "Ireland is open for business," but the opposite is probably true.

There are several reasons why the message needs selling. One is understandable confusion about the nature of the crisis. The fall in output, of almost 20pc, is unprecedented in a rich economy. It leaves the impression that economic activity must have ground to a halt. Foreign visitors who know the statistics are often taken aback by the crowds they find in Ireland's nightspots and more popular shopping outlets.

Publicans and retailers could tell painful tales of how much business has fallen. But there is still plenty of business. One reason for the deceptive appearances is that the population of young, single, debt-free, employed people is still the highest in the EU.

A more fundamental explanation for the confusion can be seen in yesterday's survey which found manufacturing growing at almost the fastest rate in 11 years. The bulk of the fall in GDP has come from the collapse of the construction bubble. That has wrecked the banks and public finances, and brought much hardship to many families, but it is not something which is visible on the streets.

A second reason for spreading the message is that, while success has many friends, failure is an orphan -- and nowhere more than in America. The crisis is financial, both government and private, and Mr Kenny has his work cut out to counter the depressing effect of the belief that Ireland is headed for some form of bankruptcy.

It would help if he could point to even the glimmering of a European strategy for this most profound of crises, but things go only from bad to worse on that front. Yesterday the Greek finance minister said any debt re-structuring would be a disaster for his country, which is the exact opposite of recent comments from the German finance minister.

In the face of such failure at European level, Mr Kenny is entitled to talk tough on corporation tax. He received some unexpected support from the finance minister of the Netherlands -- a country known to have been unhappy about the transfer of savings funds to Dublin -- during President McAleese's visit. Then Queen Beatrix praised the way we have faced up to our debts.

If Mr Kenny can come even close to Mrs McAleese's ability to win hearts and minds, his US visit will not be in vain.

Irish Independent

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