Posted tagged ‘bail-out’

In memoriam the Celtic Tiger

November 21, 2010

In the debates about current events in Ireland, it is often now suggested that the ‘Celtic Tiger’ was all an illusion and that it never really existed, or that if it did it consisted almost entirely of a sleight of hand connected with a property bubble and banking misconduct.

Without wanting in any way to take away from the seriousness of what Ireland now faces, that kind of perspective on the Celtic Tiger is seriously misplaced. Even after all the stuff we are about to experience, Ireland will be an immeasurably richer country, with a wholly different infrastructure and economic capacity, than might have been expected back in the early 1980s. The property bubble was not the substance of the Celtic Tiger, but rather an aberration that resulted from it. Until 2004 or so the bulk of our economic activity was in exports of goods and services, rather than trading in property or domestic consumption. You can trace the transition from this to the more recent unviable distortion of the economy by reading the annual reports of the National Competitiveness Council (which correctly identified what was happening and warned about it early on).

It is worth making this point in order to remind ourselves that not everything that we did, or even that our politicians led us in doing, was wrong. It is just that eventually we all lost touch with reality. But we can, and I suspect we will, return to a more viable version of economic success. Our ability to do that will not be helped by enthusiastically adopting a hugely distorted vision of recent Irish history.

Angst about sovereignty

November 21, 2010

Exactly 20 years ago I delivered my inaugural public lecture as a Professor of the University of Hull in England. As my topic, I had chosen the title ‘Law, Sovereignty and Democracy’.  In England, this was a time of great debate about the merits or otherwise of being in the European Community (as it then was), and for some what made membership unpalatable was the loss of sovereignty that was implied. The purpose of my lecture was to explain the limits of sovereignty that accompanied almost all examples of statehood, and to suggest that ‘sovereignty’ was not in the end a very useful concept in assessing the extent to which citizens retained control of the destiny of their community. On the other hand, accountability by the real decision-makers to those whose lives they were affecting was, I suggested, an important issue, and one that deserved close attention.

The events in Ireland of the past few days have reminded me strongly of all this. Media commentary has been full of references to the loss of Irish sovereignty when, to be frank, the country hasn’t exercised that kind of sovereignty for a very long time; when it did (if it ever did) – say, in the 1930s and early 1940s – the use its sovereignty didn’t always produce much of lasting significance; or rather, it was expressed in things like censorship and moral policing, which perhaps not too many would wish to restore today.

There are many things to be said about the situation that now faces Ireland, but I don’t think concern about loss of sovereignty is really one of them. Whatever sovereign freedom of action we thought we had last month will eventually be restored, but that’s pretty limited in the scheme of things. What matters more is what kind of economic and social policy will have become our frame of reference in the meantime, and what kind of accountability we will be able to arrange for our decision-makers in the future, while preserving and encouraging our ability to be entrepreneurial and innovative. That matters more than chasing an abstraction.

The crash, and groping in the dark

November 18, 2010

Somewhere, in Ireland or elsewhere, discussions are taking place about Ireland’s future. For those of us not involved in these discussions, we don’t really know what is happening. Ministers pop up here and there to suggest that some process is under way, or that this or that topic may be part of the discussions. But overall the government is not giving the public a proper briefing. The absence of proper information encourages rumour and cynicism and erodes confidence. Even at this late stage, the government must learn the art of political communication.

In the meantime, for those working in higher education there is a particularly high level of uncertainty, as a new economic and budgetary plan will be determined at the same time as decisions are to be taken on higher education strategy. Craig Barrett, the former CEO of Intel, has suggested this week that investment in education and in R&D is critical for Ireland at this moment: is this point being made in the rescue plans?

Communicating in a time of crisis

November 16, 2010

Right now we do not know for sure whether Ireland will require EU or IMF support to secure financial stability. In fact, we don’t know whether there have, or have not, been discussions between the Irish government and EU officials or other member states about this. We don’t know what exactly the implications of a ‘bail-out’ would be were one to take place. We don’t know what impact any of this might have on the previously announced targets for cutting the public finance deficit. In short, we the people are pretty much in the dark about everything.

When there is a crisis, communication is almost as important as taking the right substantive steps. The key ingredient that will create confidence and a positive outlook, both at home and abroad, is a popular understanding of the position and of what must now be done. The Irish government may well be taking all the right steps, but it is not sharing its thinking with the people, and this is creating uncertainty and a loss of confidence. I confess that I cannot understand why the Taoiseach has not been on television explaining the position and the actions that will be taken to lift us out of financial crisis; indeed I don’t know why he has not been doing this on a regular basis. An ad hoc interview on a news programme, though probably better than nothing, is not a substitute.

An increasing number of commentators have been calling for a change of government. For myself, I doubt that would make much difference to our chances of recovery, and it would seem to me that political continuity right now has benefits. But there needs to be leadership, and this must include proper and visionary communication. This has been completely missing, and I suspect that our current difficulties have been aggravated by that. It is high time, perhaps beyond time, that this is corrected.