Magazine article The Spectator

What Ireland Lacks Now Are Statesmen Who Can Make the Case That Recovery Is Possible

Magazine article The Spectator

What Ireland Lacks Now Are Statesmen Who Can Make the Case That Recovery Is Possible

Article excerpt

The screen at Manchester airport tells me I'm about to board an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin, but there's a Lufthansa plane at the gate. 'Blimey, ' I mutter, 'this bailout's moving fast.' I'm looking at the wrong gate, however, and it's an Aer Lingus stewardess who becomes the first of many people during my 36-hour visit to wish me 'the best of luck'. Luck looms large in the Irish psyche and it's what they long for right now - an oil find would help, I hear one passenger remark - plus a bit less attention from world markets and media.

For a country whose economy is little bigger than Manchester's, the glare of global attention is traumatic. The last thing they'll welcome, I guess, is another doorstepping foreign columnist.

So thank goodness for talkative taxi drivers. The first gives me a vernacular version of Kevin Myers's recent Spectator rant about the cronyism of the Irish political class.

'Here's where one of the big fellahs drinks, ' he says, as we pass Fagan's Bar in the suburb of Drumcondra, where Bertie Ahern, who presided as taoiseach during the decadelong boom while fending off multiple allegations about his personal finances, can be found supping Bass and contemplating his country's ruin.

The next driver tells me he's behind on his mortgage and business is thin. 'But all I need's a couple of good months and a bit of luck, an' I'll be fine.' A third points out a sign of hard times I haven't seen since I was in Eastern Europe 20 years ago: entire blocks of flats, in mid-evening, with not a single electric light on. But he roars with laughter as he tells me about a man from his own flats who was a sand-blaster by trade but claimed to be a builder when the boom came, won some contracts, made out like a bandit, bought a string of racehorses and lived the Irish dream. How's he doing now?

'The banks have him by the bollocks, he's completely fucked.'

Later, a racing man tells me the other side of the same story. In some trainers' yards, every horse was owned by new-rich builders.

But just as there were no bidders last week (even at a slashed reserve of ?300,000) for an apartment complex in Donegal once valued at ?9.5 million, so there are no buyers for the builders' nags at bloodstock sales - and the owners often don't bother to collect them if they're unsold.

Never mind the numbers

I was wrong to think no one would want to talk to me: everyone does. But it seems to me that Dubliners, as people in shock often do, are obsessing about the wrong things - the shocking ?85-billion scale of the bailout and the ?20,000 debt per citizen it implies. Those are just numbers, I tell them: what matter more are market mood-swings. To stabilise investor sentiment, you need leaders who declare robustly that Ireland has now taken every painful step demanded by the IMF to shrink the fiscal deficit; that there is a way to keep Irish banks alive without imposing a haircut on bondholders which might cause Europe-wide panic; and that Ireland's inward-investment success story, bolstered by its ultra-low corporate tax rate and its strong connections to the United States, offers real hope for the future. …

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