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Analysis/Comment Last Updated: Sep 10, 2010 - 10:33:46 AM


Ireland' system of slow-motion government and the lingering death of Anglo Irish Bank
By Michael Hennigan, Founder and Editor of Finfacts
Sep 9, 2010 - 8:11:41 AM

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The IMF said in a report in June 2009, that following the sharp deceleration of Irish growth and revenues since 2007, the fiscal deficit threatened to reach 15 per cent of GDP, which compares with Ireland’s record 17½ per cent of GDP in 1978 - - the year following the 1977 general election, that resulted in the first of the two periods of monumental economic mismanagement in the history of the Irish State. The second began in 1997.

In the Irish General election campaign of 1977, Fianna Fáil front-bencher Gerry Collins, placed an advertisement in his local provincial newspaper in Limerick, which said that his party wasn't offering "pie-in-the-sky promises such as no rates."  By the time the newspaper hit the streets, FF had added the abolition of residential rates to its treasure chest of electoral goodies, which had included the scrapping of car tax.

Between 1977 and 1982, the combination of tax cuts and huge spending increases (in the single year 1979, the public service pay bill was increased by 34 per cent), resulted in a trebling of the National Debt and the National Debt will treble again, in a similar time-span, compared with 2007.

The costly evidence of Ireland's system of slow-motion government has been very apparent in recent times as yields (interest costs) on government bonds rose above 6% while the markets awaited clarity on the ultimate cost to the State of the lingering death of the nationalised former builders' bank, Anglo Irish Bank.

The announcement that Anglo is to be split into a savings bank for deposits and a recovery bank to reclaim outstanding loans over possibly 15 years, still leaves the issue of credible total costing of the rescue, to be announced.

Two years ago this month, the Government was panicked into giving a blanket guarantee to the Irish banks, covering existing debt as well as deposits, and the fact that the issue of Anglo's fate has taken pressure from international bond markets, to force a decision now, should hardly be regarded as unusual to anyone familiar with the Irish system of governance.

The default slow-motion government main operating rule is: only respond to a pressing issue when it has mutated into a crisis…sorry…a dire crisis.

The Chinese say a fish rots from the head down and unless there is reform of the Irish governance system that resulted in the Irish economy being brought to the brink of ruin, twice in a generation, Ireland will never rank with well run countries such as Denmark.

Despite the crash, there isn't a constituency for change among the political class and the vested interests from the trade union congress ICTU on the left to the business group IBEC on the right are prisoners of  conservative vested interests, afraid change would impact the benefits from existing closed shops and insider cronyism.

All these vested interest groups have nothing to say on modernising the economy and society but they can get a firm grip of the public megaphone when it's some issue of self-interest.

Parallel with the politics of the gombeen man - -  the latest example is surely the Minister for Environment John Gormley's campaign to undermine official waste management policy - - is a modern economy run by world class foreign companies who are responsible for 90% of Ireland tradeable goods and services exports.

In 1950, IDA Ireland was first established as a separate unit within the Department of Industry and Commerce. Five years later, Finance Minister Gerard Sweetnam appointed the 39 year old Thomas Kenneth Whitaker as head of the Department of Finance and in the 1956 Budget, the tax exemption on export profits was introduced.

The multinational sector and over €40bn in cash transfers from Europe, was the basis of the creation of modern Ireland. Without both, Ireland would resemble Albania.

However, the institutions of a bygone age, the pervasive conservatism of the Irish and tolerance for bad government and administration, also endured with serious consequences.

Most of those responsible for the current sorry state of Ireland, have ensured that they will have comfortable State-financed lifetimes while the lot of the victims is uncertain and worse.   

So this is the official or fairytale version of the Irish from an IDA Ireland international promotion during the boom:

"The Irish Mind. An abundant supply of that rare commodity you’ll need to bring your business to peak performance. The Irish. Creative. Imaginative. And flexible. Agile minds with a unique capacity to initiate and innovate without being directed. Always thinking on their feet. Adapting and improving. Generating new knowledge and new ideas. Working together to find new ways of getting things done. Better and faster.

This flexible attitude pervades the ecosystem. Nowhere else will you find such close, frequently informal, links between enterprise, education and research facilities and a pro-business government. Connected by a dynamic information infrastructure. In Ireland, everything works together."

A reality check is surely overdue.

A government addicted to spin will of course not face the challenges that lay ahead.

Keeping our fingers crossed that an international recovery will take hold, is not a strategy.

It's not only an issue for politicians.

Can we as a people handle the truth?

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