Economic Growth: It should be different this time

Back in the day, when Bertie Ahern’s most-popular-taoiseach- ever crown was beginning to slip, hyper-energetic, unquestioning optimism was all but mandatory.

Economic Growth: It should be different this time

Back in the day, when Bertie Ahern’s most-popular-taoiseach- ever crown was beginning to slip, hyper-energetic, unquestioning optimism was all but mandatory. To challenge, to doubt our affluence was seen as something weak and almost treasonous.

That wearing-the-green-jersey cult reached a high watermark at a trade union conference in Bundoran when Mr Ahern made his infamous remark, one he had to apologise for later: “Sitting on the sidelines or on the fence cribbing and moaning is a lost opportunity. In fact, I don’t know how people who engage in that don’t commit suicide.”

The workers’ representative who gave that bilge a standing ovation have had 12 years to regret their foolishness but delusion as a defence is as alive as it ever was.

Just yesterday, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson, an ever-reliable voice, took refuge in it when he dismissed the ebbing-tide fact that the number of British passports issued in Northern Ireland has fallen steadily since the Brexit vote.

Mr Wilson said he was “not particularly” concerned that the number of Irish passports taken out in NI had grown significantly. Just as Mr Ahern turned a deaf ear to the tsunami that would wash him and his Fianna Fáil Praetorians away, Mr Wilson seems to hope that by ignoring the future it might not arrive.

As they are indifferent to the ballot box, bankers can be less circumspect, less political when they read the runes. The KBC consumer sentiment index was published yesterday. It made for sober reading and though it is not by any means time to think about manning the lifeboats it may be time to check they are fit for purpose.

The July KBC reading — taken before Boris Johnson and his ultras captured Downing Street — was the weakest since November 2014. The figures record a disheartening double whammy as the modest gains recorded over the two preceding months seemed to hint that the graph had returned to an upward trajectory. Optimism dashed, once again, by reality.

That the KBC analysis follows and to a degree echoes the National Risk Assessment report, published by officials led by the Taoiseach’s department last week, seems to amplify an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.

The report warned about debt, relentless expectations pressing spending discipline, climate change, an ageing population and the pension time bomb that brings, trade wars and protectionism, and the tsunami called Brexit.

What a potent mix the fears of a hard Brexit, weakening sterling, and the scars of our last economic collapse are proving. How those fears might be exacerbated by an election, and all the promises stressed politicians might make despite inflation of 0.5%, is anyone’s guess.

However, one thing stands out if it is, dread the thought, “this time” again — things are indeed different. This time, by dint of bitter experience, we might more quickly accept that there might be something concrete behind “the cribbing and moaning” and act accordingly, preferably in time to avert the most brutal measures.

The proximity of an election suggests that to hope “it is different this time” and that we might “at worst” have a soft landing may just be another concession to delusion. Let’s hope we don’t have to find out.

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