129th Barrington Medal, 2018/2019

The Barrington Medal is awarded annually by the Council of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland under the auspices of the Barrington Trust (founded in 1836 by the bequest of John Barrington). The award is intended to recognise a promising new researcher in the economic and social sciences in Ireland. The award is a silver medal and €1,000. This will be the 170th anniversary of the lecture series and the recipient will be the one 129th Barrington Lecturer.

The lecture should be based on a paper of not more than 7,500 words addressing a topic of relevance to economic or social policy and of current interest in Ireland. In treating the issue of economic or social policy,
the paper may either report the findings of a statistical research study dealing with some aspect of the problem or deal with the underlying theoretical considerations involved, or preferably combine these two
approaches. It should be written in a manner that makes it accessible to non-specialists in the area. More technical material may be included in an appendix.

The paper is published in the Journal of the Society, so it should not have been published before (nor should it be published subsequently without the prior consent of the Council of the Statistical and Social Inquiry Society of Ireland). Candidates, who at the time of their submission must be not more than 35 years of age, should at least submit a detailed abstract of approximately 1,000 words on the proposed lecture, with preference being
given to full papers. A short CV and the name of a proposer who is familiar with their work should also be submitted.

The call for entries closes on September 8th.  More information, including a list of past winners of the Medal since 1992, is available here and from secretary@ssisi.ie.

Negotiations and trust

I am reading Hugo Young’s wonderful This Blessed Plot (is it really possible that it is out of print? How could that possibly be?). He agrees that de Gaulle behaved “monstrously” in vetoing the UK application to join the EEC in 1963, but also makes a good case that Macmillan deserves a share of the blame too. Macmillan’s approach to the negotiations was “conditional and tentative, creeping in a state of high suspicion towards this moment of historic destiny”; the UK made it clear that it wanted to “unpick” the Treaty of Rome in certain ways and wasn’t “necessarily willing to accept the acquis communautaire” — although it was offering nothing in compensation for this. Macmillan went out of his way to emphasize the fact that the Commonwealth and the UK’s relationship with the US were central concerns for him, strengthening de Gaulle’s view that the UK did not really belong in the EEC. Nor did the UK show any great enthusiasm for joining that organisation, in case this might weaken its bargaining hand. All of this merely served to strengthen European suspicions about the UK, and not only in France, and made it much easier for de Gaulle to eventually veto the UK application (just as UK diplomatic ineptness had made it easier for him to veto Plan G some years previously).

The story is not irrelevant today. Imagine that the UK had said, in June or July 2016, that given the closeness of the vote it would seek the closest possible relationship with the EU. Imagine that it had said that avoiding a hard border in Ireland was a major priority, but that it also wanted to avoid the emergence of trade barriers within the UK. Imagine that it had said that, therefore, it would be seeking to remain within a UK-EU customs union, and that it would unilaterally commit to remaining fully aligned with all EU regulations regarding goods. Imagine that it had said that, self-evidently, this would require it to abide by all relevant ECJ rulings, and that it would naturally be willing to make a contribution to the EU budget (but nowhere near as big a one as at present, of course). And imagine that it had said that it would also be willing to sign up to a broader set of guarantees ensuring that it would not try to steal a competitive march on the rest of Europe by undermining labour and regulatory standards more generally.

It might have been quite difficult for the EU to reject such an offer outright, and there might even have been reasons for it to welcome it. The EU could have made it clear that under these circumstances there would not be free access to the EU market for services, and that this might have very negative implications for various manufacturers based in the UK for whom the provision of services to their clients is an important part of their business. It could have added that these difficulties might be surmountable if the UK accepted all four freedoms of the Single Market and paid more into the EU budget. The UK might have objected to these objections. But at least there might have been a basis for negotiation.

It seems as though the UK government may finally be inching towards a situation in which it finds itself proposing something very like the hypothetical offer outlined above. There are still mad aspects to what is supposedly being suggested, notably the proposal that the UK collect customs duties on behalf of a customs union of which it is not a member, and that goods destined for the internal UK market should potentially be allowed to face an entirely different set of tariffs. And yet, the UK is apparently proposing to remain harmonized with EU regulations for goods. We are slowly getting there.

But only very slowly, and only in the face of enormous domestic political resistance. The UK did not proactively propose the solution suggested above – it is being dragged there, kicking and screaming, since it is finally coming to realize that there is no sensible alternative (other than accepting not only a customs union but all four Single Market freedoms, or not leaving the EU at all). Its government has worked, not to build up trust, but to destroy it. Its ministers have made no secret of their disdain for the EU. The UK government has made it clear that it really does want to do free trade deals around the world, and that it really does want the freedom to regulate – or deregulate – as it chooses. Even if Her Majesty’s Government is forced by circumstances to sign up to something that precludes this, we know that this would be only reluctantly: it is quite obvious that the UK does not want this solution. And we also know from experience that its government is capable of signing a document one day, and denying that it means what it says the next.

And what this means is that there is no trust on the other side of the table; nor should there be. And that implies that even if this British government eventually comes to accept that it needs to sign up to full customs union membership, as well as full compliance with EU regulations as regards goods, an offer along those lines may not be acceptable to the EU. Indeed, it seems almost certain that it will not be.

But it is still worth asking what would have happened if clear minds and strategic thinking had prevailed in London in June and July 2016, and such an offer had immediately been proposed without any strings being attached. There would still have been those who, like de Gaulle in 1963, would have wanted to reject it, and they might still have gotten their way. (They might even have been right: I am not implicitly comparing them to de Gaulle, who clearly behaved badly.) But I am willing to bet that it would have been more difficult for them.



Economic and Social Review, Summer 2018

The latest edition of the Economic and Social Review (Volume 49, No.2) is now available, containing the following research and policy articles:


The Socioeconomic Determinants of Crime in Ireland from 2003-2012 by Stephen Brosnan

Householder Preferences for the Design of an Energy Efficiency Retrofit Subsidy in Ireland by Matthew Collins, Seraphim Dempsey and John Curtis

Decomposing the Drivers of Changes in Inequality during the Great Recession in Ireland using the Fields Approach by Cathal O’Donoghue, Jason Loughrey and Denisa M. Sologon

Policy papers

The Impact of Free GP Care on GP Utilisation in Ireland by Paul K. Gorecki

Lifting the Lid: the Private Financing of Motorway PPPs in Ireland by Dónal Palcic, Eoin Reeves and Anne Stafford

A gap in current policies for Irish financial stability

In a recent speech, the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, Sharon Donnery, floated the prospect that the CBI might impose Counter Cyclical Capital Buffers (CCyB) on Irish banks, in order to guard against an unstable credit build-up in the currently strong economic environment. She also used the speech to discuss current conditions in the Irish financial system and review the macroprudential regulation policies of the CBI.

In many ways, Irish macroprudential regulation has been exemplary, but there is a glaring defect. Stanga et alia (2017 and 2018) compare 26 countries regarding mortgage arrears, financial stability and macroprudential policies, and Ireland’s profile is remarkably poor. As Stanga et al. note, controlling mortgage arrears is a key objective of macroprudential policies, and Ireland has very poor performance by this metric.

Ireland’s intractable mortgage arrears problem stems in large part from its defective legal system regarding loan security, with extremely limited lenders’ rights to collateral repossession. This defect in turn limits the reliability of Ireland’s quite restrictive macroprudential policies. As Stanga et al. state in their international overview:

“Better institutions – which improve judicial efficiency and make it easier for banks to enforce their rights – reduce the level of mortgage defaults. We consider several proxies for institutional arrangements and compile an index of institutional quality (IQ). We find a significant and negative relationship between IQ and mortgage arrears, both before and after the onset of the financial crisis – the higher the average quality of institutions, the lower the average mortgage default ratio (Figure 3). Moreover, the effects of macroprudential policies and institutional quality on mortgage defaults are mutually reinforcing. As illustrated in Figure 4, the effect of the MPI [Macro Prudential Index] on defaults becomes stronger in countries with better institutions. This result suggests that the effect of tougher macroprudential policies (that reduce household leverage and ultimately deter defaults) is amplified in an institutional environment conducive to an efficient judicial system with better protection for lenders’ rights and better enforcement capabilities.”

In addition to making banks more cautious, the limited-repossession system in Ireland makes the CBI more stringent in its macroprudential squeeze on credit flows. The prospect of a future spike in mortgage defaults is a key concern for the CBI, along with the high average loss-give-default in such a scenario. Because of this, the CBI is correct to stamp down hard on any signs of substantial credit flow into the domestic housing market.

When it comes to tackling the underlying defect in the Irish system (the too-limited repossession rights of lenders) the CBI has taken the line that this is somebody else’s problem. The CBI harangues the government endlessly on tax and spend policies (which are also not strictly the CBI’s problems) but when it comes to addressing the big defect in the Irish system regarding repossession, the CBI is as quiet as a mouse.

Who is paying for this unusual Irish system of extremely-limited repossession rights? Nondelinquent mortgage borrowers pay for the limited-repossession system since their mortgage interest rate includes the expected cost of default, capturing both a high probability of default and a high loss given default. Households looking for mortgages suffer in two ways: one, the Irish limited-repossession system makes mortgages more difficult to obtain; two, the system has a knock-on effect on housing construction: property development is a high-risk business and with no guarantee of mortgage-ready buyers, developers are extra-cautious.

The net effect of the Irish limited-repossession system on housing prices is indeterminate since there are opposite effects on the demand and supply sides. Cash buyers might benefit or lose on a net basis: they lose from the decrease in house construction (hence higher prices) but benefit from reduced bidding competition against mortgage-based buyers. Existing mortgage holders (other than defaulters) lose, and prospective mortgage holders lose twice over.

At the conclusion of her speech Donnery states:

“While there are uncertainties placing a precise value on the short-term benefits and costs, in the longer-term, increasing the margins of safety in an uncertain world is of benefit to all.”

Consider a young Irish household wishing to buy a family home using mortgage finance. In exchange for a mortgage loan, they might be willing to take a chance that they lose the house in some future scenarios if things turned out badly and they could not pay the loan back. They want a house now and are willing to take a chance on the future. Such a mortgage contract is not legally available to them in Ireland nowadays, since repossession can only be enforced in ridiculously limited circumstances and, due to this legal reality, banks are not allowed to issue mortgage loans unless they are virtually default-risk-free. The young household will have to rent or live with parents, for many years into their future.

The Irish financial system, where there is virtually no chance of receiving a default-risky mortgage and even less chance that such a loan could end with repossession, is not of benefit to all. For many people in many circumstances, risk is good.

Conniffe and Norvartis Prizes

The annual conference of the Irish Economic Association was held on the 10th and 11th of May at the Central Bank. More than 160 people attended the conference.

Alejandra Ramos (TCD) was awarded the Conniffe Prize for best paper by a young economist at the conference. Alejandra received the prize for her paper titled “Household Decision Making with Violence: Implications for Transfer Programs”.

Benjamin Elsner (UCD) and Florin Wozny (IZA) won the Novartis prize for the best paper in Health Economics at the conference. The winning paper was titled ” The human capital cost of radiation: Long run evidence from exposure outside the womb”

Prof Wendy Carlin (UCL) and CORE gave the ESR lecture “The Econ 101 paradigm is broken – what is the alternative?” Her slides from the talk

IEA Dublin ESR Guest Lecture 2018

Prof Olivier Blanchard (Peterson Institute) gave the Edgeworth lecture “Should we reject the natural rate hypothesis” His slides from the talk

Edgeworth Lecture IEA 2018

On the IEA website there are plenty of pictures from the conference


Gerard O’Reilly

Central Bank of Ireland: Financial Stability Notes

The Central Bank of Ireland has today published its first Financial Stability Note. This new series will cover financial stability related topics including those relating to risks and vulnerabilities facing the Irish and European financial system.


The Note, ‘Macroprudential Measures and Irish Mortgage Lending: An Overview of 2017’, by Christina Kinghan, Paul Lyons and Elena Mazza, provides an overview of new residential mortgage lending in Ireland in 2017. It describes key loan and borrower characteristics of loans subject to the Central Bank’s Mortgage Measures along with a comparison to lending in 2016. The Note also provides details on loans with an allowance to exceed the loan-to-value (LTV) and loan-to-income (LTI) limits, as permitted under the Measures. 35, 472 new loans are examined, with a value of €7.4 billion.


The key findings of today’s Financial Stability Note are:


  • First-time-buyers (FTBs) in 2017 had an average LTV of 79.8% and an average LTI of 3 times gross income. This represents a marginal increase on the average LTV and LTI ratios reported in 2016. FTBs also had a larger loan size, property value and income compared to FTBs one year earlier (see Table 4).
  • The average loan size and property value of second and subsequent buyers (SSBs) also increased compared to 2016. The average LTV for SSBs in 2017 was 67.6% and the average LTI was 2.6 times gross income (see Table 5).
  • A higher proportion of loans for both FTBs and SSBs were originated on a fixed interest rate compared with one year earlier.
  • 17% of the aggregate value of SSB lending exceeded the SSB LTV limit.
  • 18% of new primary dwelling home (PDH) lending exceeded the 3.5 LTI cap. This corresponds to 25% of the value of FTB lending and 10% of the value of SSB lending. A larger share of LTI allowances was accounted for by FTBs (74%) relative to SSBs (26%).
  • Allowances to exceed the LTI and LTV caps were allocated to borrowers in all four quarters of 2017 (see Table 7).

Irish Postgraduate and Early Career Economics Workshop

See below for the programme for the return of the Irish postgraduate and early career economics workshop (previously “ISNE conference”). All are welcome to attend. Thanks to School of Economics in UCD for providing financial support.

Irish Postgraduate Early Career Economics Conference

UCD Geary Institute

Friday May 4th

9am to 915am: Opening Remarks: Professor Liam Delaney (UCD), Dr. Lisa Ryan (UCD), Dr. Ben Elsner (UCD), Dr. Michelle Queally

Session 1a: 915am to 1045am Session 1b: 915am to 1045am
Sanghamatira Mukrhrejee (UCD) “Factors influencing early electric vehicle adoption in Ireland”. Aine Doran (QUB) “Population Dynamics in 19th century Ireland”.
Bryan Coyne (TCD) “The impact of a subsidised weatherisation scheme on Irish domestic energy consumption”. Gayana Vardanyan (TCD) “The long-run impact of historical shocks on the decision to migrate: evidence from the Irish Famine”.
Martin Murphy (ESRI) “Predicting farm’s non-compliance with regulations on emissions of nitrates”. Man Wing (Lorraine) Wong (UCD) “The effect of language proximity on the labour market outcomes of the asylum population in Switzerland”.
10.45am  to 11am Coffee
Session 2a: 11am to 1230pm Session 2b: 11am to 1230pm
Florian Gerth (CBOI) “Entry and Exit Dynamics of UK firms in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis”.

Patrick McHale, BA  (NUIG) & Thomas Plunkett, B.Pharm (NUIG) “Healthy Eating Meal Plan Preferences Amongst a University Population: A DCE Approach”

Tammana Adhikari (UCD) “Deals versus Rules?”. Kenneth Devine (UCD) “Mortgage Choice and Expectations”.
David Jordan (QUB) “Doomed to decline?: Interwar industrial performance and policy in Northern Ireland”. Ivan Petrov (UCD) “Information Asymmetry, Split Incentives, and Energy Efficiency in the Residential Rental Market”.
1245pm to 130pm Lunch
Session 3a: 130pm to 3pm Session 3b: 130pm to 3pm
Dora Tuda (TCD) “Does higher unemployment increase income inequality: evidence from European labour markets using a discrete choice experiment”. Iordanis Parikoglou (UCD/Teagasc). “The impact of innovation on farm level productivity: evidence from the Irish dairy sector”.
TBC Stefano Ceolotto (TCD). “The impact of moral licensing on pro-environmental behaviours”.
Philip Carthy (ESRI) “Is employment growth affected by the introduction of broadband services?: Evidence from Ireland”. Linda Mastrandrea (UCD) “Linking retail pricing policy with the decarbonisation of the electricity sector”.
Coffee 3pm to 315pm
Session 4a: 315pm to 445pm Session 4b: 3pm to 445pm
Deirdre Coy (UCD) “Health formation in an RCT Early Childhood Visiting Programme”. Eoin Corrigan (UCD) “Capricious Redistribution: The Scale and Impacts of the Local Authority Rent Subsidy”.
Anne Devlin (QUB) “Why is work-limiting disability in Northern Ireland so high?”. Stephen Byrne (CBOI) “Solving the wage puzzle: Does the ‘nonemployment rate’ explain wage dynamics?”.