Dan O'Brien: 'Ireland would suffer most from a no-deal Brexit - and backing down on the backstop could rule it out'
Last week this column concluded with the question of what the Irish Government might be facing...
Last week this column concluded with the question of what the Irish Government might be facing...
The past week saw a slew of data published on the Irish economy. The figures, when taken in the round, show an economy that is still growing. But an increasing number of indicators are pointing...
In January, for the first time ever, the UK accounted for less than 10pc of Irish goods exports. That was what emerged last Friday morning when the State's statisticians published the latest trade...
Yesterday the UK government announced how it might (everything was in draft) put import...
Despite chronic Brexit fatigue all round, there can be no avoiding Britain's withdrawal from Europe today. On Tuesday, the British parliament looks...
For states and economies, being small has downsides and upsides. Historically, there were more cons than pros for the world's minnows. When raw power determined relations between states, the law of the jungle pertained in international affairs. The bigs called the shots. The smalls got squashed, or darted out of the way if they could.
All states have interests in the wider world. They pursue those interests in a range of ways: from exercising whatever power they have to persuading others to want what they want. Democracies, unlike non-democracies, must also consider their values in deciding how they act in the world. When interests and values clash, governments in democracies can be in a very difficult position.
Almost half of all adults in the prime of their working lives in Ireland have a third-level qualification. That is the highest in all of Europe. It is far above the EU average of less than one in three.
'The abrupt ending of existing cooperation agreements between the EU and the UK in a disorderly Brexit would have material and immediate economic implications. The impact of a 'no-deal' Brexit would permeate all areas of economic activity."
Some choices in life can be finessed and fudged. Others cannot. When faced with an either/or choice, you can't have the best of both worlds. You must choose one or the other. So it is with countries' choices about markets.
Crystal ball-gazing is fraught. Having spent more than a decade doing forecasts, I know its pitfalls. I would certainly not like to be in the forecasting business right now because 2019 is one of the...
There is very likely to be a lot of bad news to comment on over the course of 2019. As the first days of the year brought quite a bit of good...
The year just begun is one of the most difficult to predict in the 20 years I have been in the...
Since the start of the year the number of people living in extreme poverty across the world has fallen by almost 25 million. This is an enormous...
Looking back on a year in its closing days does not always give the best perspective - it is still far...
Having just passed the halfway point in Donald Trump's four-year US presidential term, now is a good time to weigh up the real impact he has had so far - on Ireland, the world and his own country.
A general election is coming. It could take place as early as May. How will it change the current political configuration and what might the consequences be for politics and policy-making?
The Irish economy is in rude health. Apart from a slowdown in the rate of employment growth over the past year, almost every indicator points to an economy that is still performing strongly. That happy state of affairs is remarkable. One might have thought that instead of spending, company executives would be cowering under desks and consumers hiding behind their stacks of tinned...
In recent weeks this column has discussed two social phenomena. The first was Ireland's birth rate. It has fallen to its lowest level since records were first kept in the 19th century. The second was that the Irish adult population has become the most educated in Europe - no other country in our continent has a higher proportion of grown-ups with third-level qualifications.
Seeing the wood for the trees can sometimes be hard. When events are changing by the hour, and the issues involved are inherently complex, getting an overview of what's going on is difficult.
Despite the quite extreme uncertainty facing the economy, along with signs of slowdowns among Ireland's main trading partners, the good news from the early weeks of the year is that there is little sign of Irish growth faltering.
Britain did not swallow the Irish border backstop. The massive rejection by Westminster of the EU Withdrawal Agreement containing the backstop reflects well on none of the participants in the Brexit fiasco. That includes the Irish Government.
Last week's column on Ireland's birth rate - which is historically low and still falling - got plenty of reaction. Quite a number of people put the fall in the number of babies being born down to the high cost of living generally, and, in particular, to the cost of having children.
Before spending much of the last week in London, I had hoped to get a better understanding of the political dynamics driving the Brexit process in Britain. That hope proved forlorn. The visit's main takeaway, after talking to a range of people involved with Brexit, is that there is just as much chaos in both the main political parties as there appears to be from afar.
You've heard of 'baby booms', but have you heard of 'baby busts'?
We are in a moment of great peril. The invisible infrastructure that allows life on the islands of Ireland and Britain to function as it does could shut down in just over 100 days. Such an unprecedented event could cause disruption many times greater than the 2001 foot and mouth outbreak and the 2010 grounding of flights owing to volcanic ash.
How hard you push those you bargain with is central to the art of persuasion and negotiation. Twenty-five years ago this week one of the most important bargains in the history of this island was reached. The Downing Street Declaration cleared a pathway towards politics for those who had sought to get their way by violence and intimidation.
Brexit is bad in many respects. One of the downsides is that following its many twists and turns takes up a great deal of time. The distraction from other issues amounts to a big opportunity cost.
Tempting as it may be to discuss recent Brexit developments, the wisdom of the backstop and what will happen next March 29, these matters may be better left until next week.
We are what we consume. Such a materialistic view of the world will not be shared by most people, nor is it shared by this writer. But how people spend their money reveals many things.
Has the democratic tide turned in the western world? Will the forces of extremism come to power in ever more countries? Is Europe heading back to the dark valley of the 1930s?
The taxman is hiring. Between now and next March, the Revenue Commissioners plan to recruit 200 additional people to cope with the Border issues that Brexit will create. Staff numbers will rise by another 400 later. News reports this week suggest that more than 3,000 people have applied for these jobs.
The economy is in a sweet spot. It's still lean after the shake-out of recession years and it is benefiting from benign international conditions. Despite all the uncertainties out there, the latest growth figures from the UK and the US are robust, while a soft patch in the euro area is probably just that, and not a sign of incipient recession.
It may be a little early to pen a review of the year, but it can be said with certainty, even at this juncture, that 2018 has been another good year for the Irish economy. Despite the extreme uncertainties that have been generated by Brexit, Donald Trump's trade conflicts and the coming to power of a Trumpian government in one of our currency area's biggest economies (Italy), near...
What will happen on March 29, 2019? After yet another tumultuous week in the Brexit saga, that is ultimately the big question.
'Get over it.' 'Move on.' 'Look to the future.'
What is the future of foreign direct investment? This a crucial question for Ireland's prosperity, because a central pillar of the country's economic model is the attraction of globalised foreign companies.
The US has not invaded another country since Donald Trump won the White House. The American economy has not slumped as a result of the acute political uncertainty generated by an erratic and unpredictable leader (on the contrary, it is booming). America remains a democracy - last week's elections were not cancelled, postponed or rigged by agents of the state as happens in countries...
"The worst possible outcome of Brexit for Ireland would be the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal next March." These were the first words of former Taoiseach John Bruton in these pages yesterday.
The first duty of anyone who opposes tribalism is to call out their own side when it engages in tribalism. Because members of the English and unionist tribes have been guilty of serious and dangerous acts of tribalism towards 'us' in relation to Brexit does not mean that their words and deeds should be matched.
Last Friday's presidential election and constitutional referendum have together consumed the attention of the political system, the media and those interested in political affairs over many weeks. More heat than light was generated. Is it time to consider doing what many other countries do on both votes?
There is surely no country anywhere in the world in which tax on company profits is discussed more than it is in Ireland. The rate of corporation tax; its legions of international critics, from French presidents to leftist activists; the amounts of it that is paid into the state's coffers each year; and the reasons those revenues might dry up are just some of the issues that are constantly discussed.
It is not often that the British media pays attention to Irish foreign policy decisions. It is even rarer for an Irish foreign policy decision to get more coverage in Britain than in Ireland. That is exactly what happened last week.
The boom is back. The good times are rolling again. Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe: this year, last year, and, according to some predictions, next year. One hears this a lot, with the latter point repeated frequently by ministers.
Discussion of Brexit focuses much more on exports, which are generated by producers, than imports, which are consumed by individuals as end-products and by businesses as inputs. As the risk of a no-deal Brexit rises more attention will be focused on potential supply disruptions - to both exports and imports.
In Britain, the average public sector worker earns £524 (€592) a week, according to the most recent figures from that country's Office of National Statistics. That was less than 1pc above the pay of the average British private sector worker.
Humiliation is among the most dangerous feelings. When it becomes a factor in conflicts, reason takes a back seat. People will sacrifice a lot to avoid being humiliated. Some more than others.
Last week the latest figures on both national income and national wealth were published. They show an economy in generally good health, but one that continues to carry too much debt weight.
This Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers bank and the beginning of what came to be known as the Great Recession. Last week this column looked at the consequences and policy responses in Ireland. Today’s column looks at the wider international ramifications — for politics, economics, Europe, and the regulation of finance.
Every business needs three things: people; a physical place for its people to work; and money. These three inputs - labour, land and capital - are known in the economics jargon as the 'factors of production'. Last week three big sets of figures were published on the first of these factors of production - labour.
This month marks the 10th anniversary of the most significant event of the 21st Century so far, both for Ireland and for the western world. Its implications will be pondered for decades to come, just as the 1929 crash, the Great Depression and all that followed those events continue to be debated to this day.
For decades there was no significant change to the tax system of the United States. Then, last December, the Congress passed a comprehensive and wide-reaching package, pushed by the most polarising president in living memory. The law - known as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) - radically overhauled the US tax system. The mammoth TCJA has had corporate executives,...
August's slower pace allows more time for reading and reflection. I've been reading and reflecting on Donald Trump's America in preparation for a discussion tomorrow with Sean Spicer, former White House press secretary and holder of numerous roles in the Republican Party since the 1990s.
Most readers of these pages have an interest in politics. Most readers will also know a thing or two about the politics of big countries that are important to Ireland - Britain, the US and, more recently, Germany.
'Global trade recorded its highest growth rate in six years in 2017, both in volume and value terms." That was the happy opening line of the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) analysis of recent trends in cross-border commerce in its flagship annual trade publication launched last week.
How great is Ireland's tax burden? Last week this column compared this country with the rest of Europe. Across the EU, governments raised revenues worth 45pc of the bloc's economy in 2016, according to Eurostat. In Ireland, the figure was 42pc, as calculated by the new official measure of the economy which strips out the distortionary effects of multinational activity.
'Ireland is a low- tax economy." This statement is frequently made, both at home and abroad. It is made because the amount of cash the State takes in is indeed lower than all other peer countries relative to the size of the economy, as it is most commonly measured.
'Almost irrespective of the external interest rate environment, we still expect Ireland's annual interest bill to fall towards €5bn in the near term, from €6.1bn in 2017 and a peak of €7.5bn in 2014." Thus spoke the man who manages the public debt pile, Conor O'Kelly.
It was a deeply depressing week. Ireland's two most important partner countries - Britain and America - are becoming sources of insecurity rather than sources of security. The implications are many and grave.
Many areas of public and private life involve trade-offs. How cross-border commerce happens is a topical example.
Mid-year it is a good moment to take stock. With the Irish economy in rude health, what of the wider European economy upon which Ireland is so dependent?
The long, slow, grinding process of presenting Brexiteers with the trade-offs Britain faces as it leaves the EU has ground out another success. Last Friday night, the British government signalled it was moving closer to being willing to remain something akin to a de facto member of the EU after it leaves next March. As of yesterday afternoon, none of the pro-Brexit members of cabinet had...
Angela Merkel once said that if the euro fails, then the entire EU project would fail. She was right about that. She was wrong when she said something similar about dealing with migration last week. Europe can, and is, dealing with the challenges of inward migration. It is not, as all too frequently claimed, an "existential" threat to the continent's political structures.
Ireland is the biggest tax haven in the world. That was the claim made by two foreign academics in recent days. They say that globalised companies here and elsewhere around the world are dodging taxes in mind-boggling amounts.
Economy-wide wage growth is picking up. This has many implications. It also raises important questions.
Ireland is a very open economy dependent on three major markets: the euro area, the US and the UK (in that order). All three now pose big risks.
Tourism is one of the country's most important industries. It is big, geographically widespread and growing rapidly. How has it been performing recently and, as the summer peak season approaches, what are its prospects in the short term and over the longer term?
I spent the second half of last week in the Latvian capital at a think-in organised by the European People's Party, the political grouping of European centre-right parties. Their "European Ideas Network" brought together MEPs from that party and a range of non-political analysts to ponder topical matters.
Import taxes on Brazilian beef and New Zealand butter will be the same in Ireland and Britain on January 1, 2021 as they were the day before. They will not diverge, if they ever diverge, for some time after that date. This may not seem to be significant at first glance, but in the context of a hard border appearing on this island in the years ahead, it is potentially very important.
Is there "a material risk" that the value of your home will fall? The country's top central banker warned as much last week. As Philip Lane also happens to be an internationally respected economist, his words carry weight. Those same words led to a frisson of fear running down the national spine.
Foreign direct investment drives the Irish economy. As exports tend to be where the real value is added in a small economy, the fact that foreign companies account for up to 90pc of all the goods and services that are sold out of this country shows how central they are. Although some do not like to hear it, the hard truth is that this economy would be a backwater without the foreign...
The reunification of this island has moved up the agenda. Brexit has made the holding of a border poll more likely in the medium term. More northern nationalists, who voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, favour a change in the status quo. At the margins, some internationalist-minded unionists may become less attached to the union with Britain.
The numbers are in. The 2017 public finances data for all countries in the EU were published last week. Thirteen of 28 members of the bloc were back in the black. As the chart shows, they included the usual fiscally responsible suspects in northern Europe: Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden.
When it comes to how incomes are spread between the richest and poorest, Ireland is almost identical to Sweden, a famously egalitarian country. That is what new figures from the European Union's statistics agency showed last week.
Alcohol and drugs are consumed and enjoyed by many, if not most, adults. The former is more widely used because it is legal.
There have been bigger gains in employment over the past 18 months than in the first 75 years of this State's existence. That stark fact says more about Ireland's worst-in-Europe record on jobs in the 20th Century than it does about the (very good) recent record on employment creation.
The Good Friday Agreement, signed 20 years ago last week, was a remarkable achievement in many ways. The many people who worked so hard on it fully deserve the recognition they have received over the past week.
One of the lessons learnt from the crash of a decade ago was the need in the political-administrative system for more rigorous thinking about the risks the country faces. In recent years, an annual risk report has been drawn up by the government. This year's report is being prepared now. Here are four risks that are overstated and four that need more attention.
If the Government paid millions of euro more than it should have to a construction company for a piece of infrastructure, questions would rightly be asked about its use of taxpayers' money. If it paid one legal firm more for a job than the lower price offered by another firm, there would be good reason to ask why the higher price was paid.
In exactly one year from now there may be no flights between Ireland and Britain. As the 21st anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement approaches, the Border on this island could be in turmoil as the Government scrambles to meet its commitments to maintaining what will have become overnight an EU external border.
Newspapers are published on a daily or weekly basis. Imagine if they were published only once every 50 years and that today's paper contained the most significant news since 1968. What stories would be included?
Economics is called the dismal science. There is nothing dismal about the performance of the Irish economy right now. The same could be said of the economies of Europe and the US, with which we do so much trade.
Last week's raft of data on the economy was almost flawlessly good. The three most important sets of quarterly data - on jobs, GDP and the balance of international payments - were published on Wednesday and Thursday.
This column tries to avoid the subject of Brexit. There have been many twists and turns in the saga. There are many more to come. Most of what has happened, and most of what will happen, is noise. Filtering out what is important is not easy because there is so much noise.
In anticipation of the publication of the Government's new planning and investment strategies, this column last week made the point that the importance of such plans tends to be overstated.
For some time this column has been making the point that frequently made claims about ever more precariousness in the workplace are baseless. Despite the absence of evidence, articles and documentaries abound stating that job security is evaporating.
In an age of so much readily available information, it is astounding so many people believe things that are completely untrue.
In a little over two years, the number of people living in the Republic will hit five million. While most rich countries are grappling with the many challenges posed by falling or stagnant populations, Ireland has the happier, if no less daunting challenge of planning for more people. Comparatively high birth rates and immigration rates explain Ireland's strong demographics.
Business and consumer confidence across Europe is almost uniformly high. In some cases it is at record levels. Last week's first estimate of euro-area GDP for the final quarter, and the year as a whole, confirmed the durability of the upswing.
Conversations with continentals these days invariably include the topic of the taxing of multinational companies. For some people in some European countries it is almost an obsession.
Bad economic times cause politics to sour and people to give their votes to parties offering simplistic or illiberal solutions to society's ills. This is a commonly held view now.
Fifteen months ago, a milestone was reached in the history of the Irish economy. In the final months of 2016, the number of jobs in the technology sector overtook employment in agriculture for the first time.
The tectonic plates of European politics are shifting. Will they settle, or will the pressures causing them to shift end up changing the continent's political landscape?
Last week, the most important indicator on the economy was published. The latest quarterly slew of jobs market data was of particular significance. That was the case for number of reasons.
'Ireland is the fastest growing economy in Europe." How many times has this been said by government politicians over the past few years? More than anyone could count would be my guess.
Peter Sutherland died a week ago. It is for obituary writers and future biographers to pen a full assessment of his achievements and his contribution to national and international life. This column is not an attempt to do that. It is, rather, a personal reflection on some aspects of his life and character; what my encounters with him said about how powerful people operate; and, more generally, about how the world works.
The year has hardly begun and corporation tax is already in the news. One of the usual suspects in large-scale tax avoidance - Google - was reported last week to have kept €16bn in global earnings out of the jurisdiction of any country to avoid tax. Irish-registered companies were allegedly involved.
How the fruits of economic growth are shared is always a hot topic. In recent years it has become even hotter: in Ireland, in the western world, and globally.
Angry venting is a vice of our age. Social media has given cranks and ranters a platform to do in public what they once did in private, or attempted to do at the end of a bar before being told where to go by those trying to enjoy a quiet drink. Much of the comment is shrill and unmeasured: the intemperate care little about facts and evidence.
On days such as these, when most people are starting to relax into their Christmas break, quality of life issues are to fore. But they are also increasingly recognised as of importance for businesses. Happy employees are more productive. They are easier to deal with than unhappy and disgruntled ones too.
In this newspaper 51 weeks ago, my New Year's Day wish list included nine hopes for 2017. With just a week to go before the end of the year, today is as good a day as any to assess which of them have been fulfilled.
'How are Irish exports doing?' I was asked this question by a foreign journalist recently. With lots of focus on many aspects of the domestic economy lately, which has resulted in reduced dependence on exports to drive growth, I realised I had not checked the export data in some time. As a small open economy whose prosperity ultimately depends on foreign trade, export performance is always...
Road, railways, reservoirs and pylons are in plain sight. The hard infrastructure of the modern world is visible to all. The soft infrastructure is invisible to most. Laws, regulations and treaties underpin how countries and the world work.
Ireland's strategic objective in the Brexit fiasco is to keep Britain as tightly locked into the European economic and legal order as possible. This is a vital national interest. Achieving it was always going to be one of the greatest foreign policy challenges this State has ever faced. It was made so much harder last January when Theresa May, the British prime minister, chose to interpret the Brexit referendum as a vote to leave the EU's customs union and single market.
Is the Irish Government overplaying its hand in the Brexit talks? That question has arisen a number of times over the course of Leo Varadkar's premiership and in particular over the past 10 days. The consequences of doing so, in a worst-case scenario, would be to leave Ireland vulnerable in Brussels, alienate even the more moderate elements in London and end up with all the downsides of a hard...
How have all things related to Brexit affected the UK economy and how will that economy evolve in the run-up to Brexit in March 2019? These questions have fallen victim to the deepening partisanship that has taken hold across the water. Since the referendum to leave the EU in June of last year, many normally balanced individuals and organisations appear to have had their analytical capacities impaired by their feelings on the issue.
Mussolini came to power in 1922 and gave Italy its first extended period of stability since unification 50 years earlier. Hitler came to power in 1933 and dragged Germany out of the Great Depression.
This Wednesday marks the first anniversary of the greatest electoral shock in recent times. Donald Trump, a non-politician, celebrity candidate, was elected president of the most powerful country on earth. Hardly a day has passed that he has not been in the news. Last week was no exception.
We are out of the woods. Crash and crisis are distant memories. The good times are rolling. It is back to politics as usual. Broadcast journalists have returned to asking politicians why they are not spending more on every problem that arises.
Irish banks, collectively and on average, are much more profitable than banks across the rest of the euro area. That has been the case for four years. These facts are not as widely known as they should be.
A good instinct and capacity to assess risks and opportunities is one of the most important abilities a person can have. That is as true in personal life as it is in business, and many other fields besides.
I moved from Rome to Madrid in the 1990s. I didn't expect a huge change - Italy and Spain are both big southern European countries with Latin cultures and languages. Along with many other similarities, both have well-known rivalries between their two biggest, similar-sized cities.
Over the next week there will be a lot of talk about how budgetary rules - both EU and national - prevent the Government from doing this and doing that. Let's start this pre-Budget column by setting out some facts.
The "global war for talent" and similar descriptions are the stuff of management literature cliché. But there is no doubt that having a big talent pool to fish in is important for employers.
The tectonic plates of European politics have shifted more since 2010 than in the previous two decades. With Democratic Europe's three biggest and most influential countries having held general elections over the past six months, a changed landscape is emerging. What are the implications for Europe and Irish interests?