|Richard Bruton (l), enterprise minister, and chief spinmeister of the Government. Jobs announcements are a key political publicity tool and a loss of jobs only merits a ministerial statement if it is large or in a minister's constituency.
Irish Media Post-Economic Crash: "Don't interrupt the minister," the
official press handler for Richard Bruton, enterprise
minister, interjected at a press conference in Dublin last month as
the minister rejected a suggestion that in respect of
the claimed 61,000 jobs that were added in the economy in 2013, that there
were question marks on the rise in 27,000 farming jobs (+30%) and the return of
self-employment without employees to boom-time levels.
The press conference highlighted 1) the enduring addiction to political spin
at ministerial level 2) the pervasive use of distorted data without
qualification 3) the timid response of the mainstream Irish media to these
issues, in particular in a system where most members of the Oireachtas
(parliament) are disengaged from the policy making process, because of
parliamentary rules and multi-seat constituencies, which fosters clientism.
Two weeks before Bruton's press conference, Prof
John FitzGerald of the ESRI (Economic and Social Research Institute),
This is the first time in sixty years that reliable sectoral employment
figures are not available and, unfortunately, this is happening just when we are
experiencing major problems with a range of other data. This makes it
particularly urgent that the CSO (Central Statistics Office) produces consistent
sectoral employment data for the last decade, taking account of the rebasing
that it has recently undertaken."
Who to believe?: Bruton, brother of a former taoiseach (prime minister) or
FitzGerald, son of a former taoiseach.
I was back in Dublin from Kuala Lumpur at the press conference attended by
Yves Leterme, deputy secretary general of the
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and
former Belgian prime minister.
Richard Bruton had commissioned the OECD to do
a special review of his Action Plan for Jobs (APJ) programme - - why spend
taxpayer funds just months after the OECD had covered employment issues in its
Economic Survey of Ireland report in September 2013? -- and in its April 2014
study of the APJ, there was a passing mention of a key recommendation that the
think-tank for 34 mainly developed country governments had made in in 2013:
"To promote effective evaluation, ensure all innovation and enterprise supports
have sunset clauses."
Bruton had nothing to say on sunset clauses and I risked lèse majesté by
telling Yves Leterme that while the OECD's March report on the digital economy
and international tax rules, highlighted that Ireland was the second biggest
services exporter in the world after India, most of the Irish total was related
to tax avoidance strategies of foreign-owned multinationals.
On Page 20 of
the OECD study [pdf], Ireland is shown to lead the developed world in ICT
(information, communications, telecom) sector, but that is because almost half
of reported services exports are effectively fake. See the following report for
OECD BEPS Project: Ireland should embrace corporate tax reform
Last month we looked at how little has changed in conservative Ireland post
the crash and how dissent is squashed by what could be termed the establishment.
Celtic Tiger RIP: Change in conservative Ireland six years after crash
This is the backdrop for the small mainstream media and the threat from
restrictive libel laws was highlighted earlier this year when three journalists
at two of the three national daily broadsheets, demanded and received monetary
compensation from RTÉ, the public broadcaster, arising from allegations made in
a television programme that they were homophobic.
Last week The Irish Times reported that Kevin
Bakhurst, RTÉ’s managing director of news and current affairs, said one of the ways broadcast news was under pressure was through increased and
costly legal challenges and threats.
He said RTÉ was facing legal actions from “some
well-known political figures.” While some actions were fair, others
were “spurious, expensive and are a public game of who-blinks-first, with a
major price tag attached on our side - - and where we are dealing with public
money.” He added there were “a small number of extremely wealthy and extremely
litigious individuals who seek to use the courts to shut down any public debate
or discussion of their affairs - - which in most cases would be perfectly
legitimate areas of exploration or discussion. I think probably enough said on
There is no shortage of opinion columnists in the Irish media and while
term-limits would help in this area in the interests of change,
the problem is
with unreliable data that is reported as fact and issued to ministers for
talking points propaganda.
Most headline Irish economic data should not be taken at face value because of
distortions caused by the foreign-owned sector including massive corporate tax
GDP (gross domestic product) includes the profits of
the foreign sector; GNP
(gross national product) is increasingly polluted by big foreign firms becoming
'Irish' through moving their headquarters to Ireland; exports and productivity data are
also unreliable as are employment data - - 85,000 unemployed in publicly funded
activation programmes are not counted as unemployed.
PMI (purchasing managers index) survey data are also unreliable - -
Further sharp rises in activity and new business were recorded in February
Meanwhile, the official CSO services index for February fell 2.9% and the annual
increase was only 1.9%.
Tax-related revenue diversions by the likes of Google, Microsoft and Facebook
boost the PMI data.
During the property bubble, many of the journalists covering
the sector were
cheerleaders while we noted in our piece on conservative Ireland that when the
members of the Oireachtas have nothing to say and most technology journalists
are cheerleaders of the high tech sector, any debate on the inflation-adjusted
€24bn spent on science policy over the last decade would be confined to the web
-- which in Ireland was long-viewed with suspicion by long-in-the tooth
The addiction to political spin destroys the opportunity to improve policy making.
If ministers are not called out on bullshit by journalists in command of
facts, then there is no incentive to change.
Lexington, the US columnist of
writes this week:
Washington’s passion for data does not signal the start of a new Socratic
age, in which the political classes jointly search for truth. In today’s
politics everything is a weapon with which to club the opposition. Why should
facts be different?"
In Ireland at least, there isn't a similar level of polarisation and facts
behind distorted data would improve accountability.
While, Minister Bruton expressed no doubt about
jump in farming jobs at his cited press conference, the CSO in vain
cautioned [pdf; page 2]:
In the case of the Agriculture, forestry and fishing sector it can be noted
that estimates of employment in this sector have shown to be sensitive to sample
changes over time. Given the introduction of the sample based on the 2011 Census
of Population as outlined in the note on the front page of this
release, particular caution is warranted in the interpretation of the trend in
this sector at this time."
Prof John FitzGerald added to his comment above:
To better understand what is happening in Ireland today significant
additional data are needed, supplementary to the national accounts, which would
show the contribution of each sector of the economy to GNP."