Peter Sutherland on the Irish Economy

The text of Peter Sutherland’s speech to the Institute of Directors is below:

Notwithstanding the successful auction of €1.5bn of government debt on Tuesday, there is no doubt that in recent weeks (and in particular in the last two weeks), Ireland’s position in the debt markets has deteriorated markedly and the sale came at a high cost. This has been the consequence of a number of factors. Some of these are objective facts about the dire state of our public finances. Others are the result of market perceptions. It is hardly surprising at present that there is an air of fatalism consistently nurtured by negativism but it is surely not in our character to give in to this. We can and will get out of this mess if we have the will to do so.

Let me say a word first about market perceptions. We seem to have a remarkable capacity to damage our public image abroad. The prevailing and understandable sense of depression in Ireland is made worse by a media often seemingly intent on presenting the worst perspective on current events. The recent Barclay’s analyst report, which was wrongly presented by some in the Irish press as being far more negative than it actually was, is a case in point. You may say, “Well so what? Those professionally concerned with our credit worthiness surely do not decide their approaches on the basis of second hand commentary on an analysts report?” Well, yes and no. The national media reaction is taken seriously and market reactions are often instantaneous.

It is time that we separated two big issues, the underlying budget deficit and the bank crisis. The first of these presents a very challenging issue but it can be dealt with if we have the collective will to do so. The collective will can only result from an understanding of the facts. We are running a revenue to spending gap of circa €20 billion p.a. and simply cannot continue to do so. As Willem Buiter, formerly of the London School of Economics, said this week, the cost of borrowing is becoming unsustainable. Our national debt is accumulating still at an alarming rate as a result of government spending but is being obscured as an issue in public debate by the constant and intense focus on the nature and effects of the banking crisis. Terrible though these are, they are identifiable and should be considered separately.