From dipped toes to Dicey Reilly's woes


Noonan and Howlin’s briefing was almost as mind-numbing as Dr Debt’s Dáil statement, writes MIRIAM LORD

SOGGY TOE time now.

Although better still would be a serious outbreak of trench foot. Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin are keen to catch it, in the national interest.

At the troika review, they pegged out their wet socks with pride.

For this is good news. Michael and Brendan were happy to announce yesterday that the nation had been dipping its “toe in the water”.

Total immersion is the objective. This is some way off yet.

“Getting back into the market is the real test of success,” said the Minister for Finance.

However, we are halfway up the ladder to the high-diving platform.

The troika is pleased. “Steady as she goes,” said the Minister for Public Expenditure, speaking from the middle rung of the four-year bailout programme.

He had no surprises for his audience in the Government Press Centre: the troika handed down their latest set of economic targets and their Irish enforcers met them. “We’ve done this seven times now,” smiled Brendan, relaxing in the post-troikal glow with his Fine Gael colleague.

“The fact that it’s routine is the most noticeable issue,” he added, as Michael nodded in agreement.

Their double-hander after troika reviews is now a regular feature.

Noonan and Howlin sitting shoulder to shoulder and batting the financial breeze after the Bailout Boys have departed isn’t really box office any more.

As the reviews roll around and the report cards pile up, the audience for the latest progress bulletin grows smaller and smaller.

On track, targets met, difficult journey going forward, still a way to travel, challenging budget ahead . . . It’s a familiar refrain now.

But it was nice to hear that the troika representatives are getting the chance to go out and about in Dublin during their stays here.

According to Brendan, they are “very satisfied” with Croke Park.

Smart move, there, Minister, exposing them to a spot of senior hurling at the weekend. They’ll have returned, traumatised, to their fancy glass offices after witnessing the fury of an All-Ireland hurling clash.

Best not upset the Irish too much, they will tell their masters. They have sticks and, by God, do they know how to use them.

But then Brendan ruined the moment. It seems they were more taken by “the architecture of Croke Park”.

The man is a disgrace to Wexford. Unless he brought them all the way up to the skywalk above the Cusack Stand and threatened to throw them off.

Michael and Brendan will have been happy, though, with the way yesterday’s briefing went.

Everyone is so used to listening to them by this stage that they don’t have to explain much any more. The Promiscuous Notes – there is always a question about them – are now the “Prom Notes”.

Still under discussion, said the Minister for Finance. Nobody bothered to question him further.

Nama got another tired outing – because you have to.

Noonan isn’t mad about Nama, but what’s a guy to do? It’s there now. And he reminded everyone what he said during the general election when asked if he intended to tinker with the agency.

“I said it’s very hard to unscramble an egg.”

He still thinks Nama is the Humpty Dumpty of the Irish economy.

At one stage, a journalist asked him what Ireland’s bottom line would be in the debt write-down negotiations.

Noonan grinned.

“You mustn’t ever have been at the fair of Glin or sold a calf!” he drawled at the mortified hack, as we had visions of our eventual deal with the ECB being sealed with a spit.

The one bad mark from the troika review was in relation to overspending in the health service. “I don’t want to exaggerate it,” stressed Brendan Howlin. “The pressure point in health has been identified.”

Which brought the plight of Not-So-Poor Aul Dicey Reilly to mind. Did the Ministers have full confidence in the Minister for Health following his appearance in Stubbs Gazette?

Of course they did. So much so, they supported James Reilly in both English and Irish.

It was the highlight of a briefing that was almost as mind-numbing as Dr Debt’s Dáil statement the night before.

That, and the strong smell of toast in the conference centre.

What with everything on track and toes being dipped, we hoped it wasn’t an omen.

Ireland's report card main observations of review

Among the troika’s main observations were:

Fiscal targets for the first half of 2012 were met, and the budget deficit is on track to be within the 8.6 per cent of GDP target for 2012.

Ongoing household balance-sheet repair and the still-weak labour market are hindering growth in domestic demand.

Ireland’s budget deficit remains the largest in the euro area, and it is essential that the authorities maintain prudent control of expenditure, including in health care. The ratification of the Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance, and forthcoming legislation to implement the treaty, will strengthen Ireland’s fiscal framework.

Ireland’s unemployment remains very high, and generating growth and jobs on a sustainable basis remains a critical priority.

Timely establishment of the Personal Insolvency Bill and “other necessary infrastructure” will be important.


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