May offers new clarity on UK's Brexit trade-offs
Many areas of public and private life involve trade-offs. How cross-border commerce happens is a topical example.
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...
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...
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...
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...
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.
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.
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...
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...
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...
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...
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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 construction sector is booming and demand for new property is being met. That statement refers to the commercial property sector. It does not apply to the housing side of the industry, which is malfunctioning badly. That, in turn, is creating difficulties and distress for a growing share of the population.
There has been quite a bit of talk of late about the economy overheating. The 'upside risk' of too much growth has been getting more attention than the 'downside risk' of too little. In my view, the risks for the economy are still heavily weighted to the downside, with Brexit, bubbly financial markets and coming increases in interest rates all capable of derailing Ireland's recovery.
The most important question for Irish democracy is the democratisation of Sinn Fein. Where that party is on the path from the position it was in two decades ago, when it was a profoundly undemocratic party in multiple respects, is becoming an ever more important question.
The holidays are over for most. It's back to the daily grind for many. The next 12 weeks will be the busiest stretch of the year for many people.
How much are people earning, what sort of pay rises are they getting and what do recent salary developments mean for the wider economy and individual industries?
While every happening in Washington DC is reported on in great detail in the media, far too little attention is being paid to Berlin. Germany is entering the final straight of its general election campaign. That country is the most powerful constituent part of a quasi-federation of which Ireland forms a part. What happens in Germany matters for every man, woman and child in this country.
A recent conversation with a Wall Streeter who is worried about bad things happening in financial markets got me thinking about bubbles and, more particularly, how to measure them. By coincidence the conversation took place almost a decade to the day since the first rumblings of the financial meltdown took place.
Half-a-billion euro is a lot of money. That is how much the Department of Finance estimates a six-year-old tax break for the hospitality sector costs annually. The de-facto subsidy is likely to have cost close to €3bn to date.
By the summer of 2007 it was increasingly clear that the Irish property frenzy was not going to end with a soft landing. The big question was how hard the landing would be. Then, exactly a decade ago, came the first rumblings of the international financial crisis, which was to erupt explosively 13 months later with the collapse of Lehman Brothers. By the time that happened, the Irish economy was already deep in recession.
How does society balance the rights of old women to sleep safely in their beds and the rights of hardcore career criminals? Is it fair that an innocent person's life is ended violently because another person, who has already committed dozens of violent crimes, has been given yet another chance?
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.
Every year thousands of companies are born and thousands die. The process of creative destruction in all economies makes this inevitable, and in many ways healthy.
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.
Ireland is Europe's new Rotterdam. For centuries the Dutch port has been a commercial hub with a vast hinterland spreading deep into Continental Europe.
'What is going on?" the editor of this newspaper asked with more than a hint of irritation. "You bloody economists are all saying that the economy is powering ahead, but people aren't feeling it," he harrumphed.
The suggestion that Ireland should follow Britain out of the EU - "Irexit" - got quite some attention last week. Ray Bassett, a former diplomat, argued in a 42-page document published in London that Ireland should actively explore leaving the EU. His central contention is that the UK is more important to Ireland than the EU. In his judgement, choosing Britain over Europe is the best option for Ireland and its people.
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.
On moving home after having spent almost all of my adult life abroad, two things surprised me about Ireland. The first was how careful Irish people are to avoid confrontation and causing offence to others, particularly in professional settings. The second was an all-pervasive legalism and deference to the lawyerly class.
Over recent days, the Taoiseach and other European leaders have signalled to Britain that the door is still open to staying in the EU if Brexit is abandoned.
The structure of the economy and how it is evolving concerns everyone in business. Few, if any, sources of information can beat the five yearly census for giving detailed granular information on those matters.
When a new leader takes office, there is always a sense of optimism that he or she can bring about change and betterment. That is all the more so in the case of a young leader.
Political outcomes that almost nobody predicted have become more common in western countries. And Britain has been particularly unpredictable.
Over the past couple of weeks I have been in Asia and Australia and have had lots of interesting meetings and conversations. Here are some issues raised which may be of relevance to an Irish business readership.
Garda reform and Brexit have been two of the biggest challenges facing the current Government. The contrasting ways in which they have been handled speak volumes about the political system - both its strengths and its weaknesses. They also illustrate how constrained the next Taoiseach will be in his freedom of manoeuvre.
The average person in Ireland is worth the princely sum of €137,000. What's more, people are getting wealthier at quite a clip, according to the Central Bank's latest figures released last week.
International trade is the lifeblood of small economies. Recently, this column looked at new research on Ireland's foreign trade in goods - tangible things, such as meat and medicines, that are put into containers and shipped to other countries. Today, the much less discussed subject of services trade is put under the spotlight.
Most people would agree in principle that taxpayers' money should not be used to subsidise private gain. Yet, to a very great extent, that is what we do in Ireland when it comes to third level education.
Size matters. Big countries with big home markets can get rich without doing much international trade. Small countries can't.
Today's Sunday Independent/Kantar Millward Brown poll shows a surge in optimism over the past six months. Never, in the three decades the pollster has been posing the question, has a larger share of respondents been more upbeat about their future personal financial situation. More than one in three people believes that they will be better off in a year's time than now. It was just one in five last October.
One in four people employed in the private sector in this state owes their job to a foreign company which sells stuff to foreigners. The taxes those workers and companies pay fund a great deal of the public sector and the cost of providing public services.
Last week saw the publication of the most important economic and budgetary document of the year so far. The Department of Finance's Stability Program Update contains an assessment of the state of the economy, along with - much more importantly - a full set of forecast figures on the public finances for the next five years.
In the lead up to the commemorations of the 1916 Rising, which culminated last Easter Sunday and Monday, there were many voices expressing concern.
The first large-scale use of chemical weapons took place in this month 102 years ago. Poison gas then came to be used frequently by all sides throughout the First World War. By the time that conflict ended in 1918, more than a million people had been killed or maimed by weaponised chemicals.
Last week's census results showed that Ireland's population was one of the fastest growing in the EU in the five years to 2016.
There are simple answers to society's big problems. Everything that annoys and frustrates you about your life can be put right easily. The reason things aren't put right is because bad people are conspiring to screw you over. This, in essence, is the worldview of the populist.
More than half a century ago, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson spoke with great enthusiasm about the "white heat of technology" and how the embrace of the scientific revolution would forge a "new Britain". The 1963 speech to his party's annual conference became famous for its articulation of the transformative power of science and technology. Few modern politicians anywhere would take a...
Understanding Brexit and its myriad implications is beyond any one individual. With so many factors at play, accurately predicting how things will turn out two years from today, when Britain is very likely to be in its first week outside the EU, is impossible.
There are only two kinds of divorces: bad and awful. One big reason break-ups cause strife is money. When people divorce they are usually not in the mood to be generous to each other.
Don't fight the last battle. This is a lesson that soldiers the world over are taught. So traumatising is combat, it is said, that it leaves an indelible mark on those who engage in it.
In 1845, Ireland had the fifth-biggest population in western Europe. More people lived here than in all the Nordic countries - Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden - put together. Today, the all-island population is less than one-third of those countries' combined populations.
Banks have been back in the news of late. AIB is being prepared for partial privatisation, Bank of Ireland reported bumper profits, and PTSB’s boss, Jeremy Masding, has been whingeing about excessive regulations on banks.
Last Sunday Enda Kenny made a surprise announcement during a speech in Philadelphia, the city where the American constitution was drafted 230 years ago.
'It is glorious to get rich." So said, of all people, a former leader of communist China. It is hard to imagine any Irish politician saying such a thing. Despite the self-proclaimed pro-business inclinations of most of our elected representatives, the lionising of wealth creation is not something one hears frequently from those in Leinster house.
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.
In less than three years' time, supermarkets north of the Border could be selling juicy steaks from the furthest corners of the world at less than half the price of equivalent cuts of Irish meat for sale in the Republic. The same thing could happen to the relative prices of many other food products.
Academic economist Frank Barry has revisited the debate around joining the euro in a new paper*. After 18 years of euro participation he ponders, among other things, what might have happened if Ireland had retained its own currency.
On the Sunday before last June's referendum on the EU in Britain, this column imagined the history of Europe from the vantage point of June 2021. It envisioned that Brexit had happened and that it triggered the break-up of the EU. That, in turn, led to an exodus of jobs from Ireland as companies that used this country as a base to service the single market had left.
Last week in the Irish Independent, issues around politicians' partners were discussed and with that the sexuality of aspiring Fine Gael leader Leo Varadkar arose.
It is rare that a week passes without stories on housing, property issues and homelessness making the news. Last week was no exception.
Political instability and upheaval have been to the fore over the past year: on this island, south and north, on our neighbouring island, on the continent, and across the Atlantic. Yet despite all the uncertainty, which might have caused consumers and businesses - from eastern Europe to America's west coast - to pull in their horns, economic momentum in the Western world has gathered pace...
After his first month in office, nobody would claim that the new US president has suddenly become what might have traditionally been described as "presidential". Supporters and opponents alike agree that he is governing in the unconventional style in which he campaigned.
One month into Donald Trump's presidency, much remains unclear about the precise direction and form of future US economic policy. But the tilt towards protectionism promised during the campaign has materialised in multiple ways - from the people appointed to important positions to the actions and statements made by the new administration.
A state's first duty is to protect its people. In order to do this, citizens in democratic countries, and most others besides, grant to their states a monopoly on the use of legitimate force and many other powers besides. Such extensive powers, along with the often (and necessarily) secretive way policing is done, means that no country is entirely free of malpractice and corruption among law enforcers.
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.
In many quarters at home and abroad, Éamon de Valera's signing of the book of condolences at the German embassy after the suicide of Adolf Hitler in 1945 was not well received. As the months and years passed, and the full horrors of Nazism became apparent, it became an ever larger blot on his record as a politician and a statesman.
The outstanding indigenous entrepreneurial achievement of this country is not to be found in the food or the hospitality or the still nascent tech sectors.
Is democracy going the same way communism went a quarter of a century ago? Are people in the free world losing faith in the elected representatives who have governed them for decades? Are the institutions and structures of democracy decaying before our eyes?
Housing was centre-stage in 2016. Don't expect matters to change much in 2017. Owing to the time it takes to build new homes, a likely (modest) increase in the supply of housing this year won't transform trends in rents and house prices.