Friday 19 January 2018

Prone to miscalculation: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar leaving RTE after appearing on the Marian Finucane show yesterday Photo: Fergal Phillips

Brexit tactics could be Leo's greatest gamble 

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.

Emerging from the shadows: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar prepares to greet European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt on his arrival at Government Buildings, Dublin, last week. Photo: PA

Full employment is more like a work of fiction, Leo 

The man who has had as much sway over the Irish economy as Paschal Donohoe and Michael Noonan over the past half decade spoke in Ireland for the first time last week. Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, has more influence over the interest rate on your mortgage than anyone else. During his time at the helm in Frankfurt, two Eurozone countries - Cyprus and Greece - have had their entire banking systems shuttered for weeks as a result of disputes with the institution he leads.

'The youth of today certainly enjoys more of some of the good things in life than the older generation — recreational sex and college educations, to name but two — but they were clobbered in the recession and are a long way from returning to the good times.'

Voice of disaffected youth won't stay silent forever 

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. So goes the old saying. It is actually well wide of the mark, according to the taxman. A recent study by the Revenue Commissioners showed that almost four out of five people who were the lowest earners in 2005 had moved off the bottom rung of the ladder a decade later. Movement among the top tenth of earners was not as great, but still considerable - almost three out of five of those on the top rung in 2005 had slipped down by 2014.

Catherine Byrne, Minister of State for Health, chats with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the ‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’ Conference at Dublin Castle. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Leo's aspirations, Trump's tax, an EU comeback and hard borders... 

The slowing down of the news cycle around this time of year is often called the silly season. The media in high summer can sometimes be silly. But the break can also be an opportunity for mid-year stocktaking, and a chance to peer through the haze of events to see what is really important. As the summer wind-down kicks in and we enter the second half of the year, here are my five big takeaways from 2017 so far, and what they mean for the rest of the year and beyond.

Cliffs of Moher (Stock picture)

Our island nation isn't capitalising on the asset around us 

Ireland's entrepreneurial roots are short and shallow. Contrary to the story that we usually tell ourselves, and one that officialdom loves to spout, the history of Irish business successes is a slim volume. Things are certainly improving, but there are still too few home-grown, internationally competitive companies. An acknowledgement that too many young people aspire to the professions, rather than business, and that too many choose immigration over entrepreneurialism, would be a useful starting point in focusing more on the problem.

Beware: The latest round of public sector pay talks may have an adverse effect on the recovering economy, the performance of which has given Michael Noonan reason to feel a little bullish. Photo: Tony Gavin

The economy is strong but pay demands are stronger 

The Minister for Finance Michael Noonan spoke recently about what is sometimes called "the lucky country". He noted in a speech a couple of weeks ago that Australia has enjoyed 25 years of uninterrupted economic growth. But he didn't merely muse that this resource-rich country on the other side of the world has not experienced a recession in more than a quarter of a century. Its success, he suggested, means that other economies need not be condemned to suffer inevitable cycles of growth followed by recession.

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo greets Taoiseach Enda Kenny during his trip to Warsaw last Thursday. The visit comes at time when the previously plodding eurozone economy looks like it might finally be on the up again Picture: Artur Widak

Europe starts to grow at long last but Trump could still spoil party 

Something is stirring in Europe. Almost 10 years on from the beginnings of the worst slump since the Great Depression, the continental economy appears to be picking up its plodding pace of growth. Last year, the eurozone economy outpaced that of the US for the first time in almost a decade. This year is shaping up in much the same way. Economic forecasts for the eurozone - for what they are worth - are being revised up almost by the week.

Dan O'Brien: Policy issues need work as foreign investment booms 

The number of people working in foreign-owned, export-focused companies now stands just shy of 200,000, according to IDA Ireland figures published last week. This extraordinary figure - equivalent to around one in eight private sector jobs - shows how globalised the Irish economy is. That the number employed in such companies has grown by well over one third since 2009, multiples of the overall rate of employment growth in the economy, shows that Ireland is becoming ever more globalised.