Pandemic spending drove national debt to €237bn in 2021

Figure equates to indebtedness of over €47,000 for every individual in State

The Republic's national debt stood at €237.2 billion at the end of last year, up from €219.5 billion 12 months earlier, as spending on pandemic-related supports continued to weigh on the public finances, according to new figures from the Central Bank of Ireland.

The headline total equates to over €47,000 for every individual in the State, and over €95,000 per worker and stands as one of the highest per capita debts in the world.

In its recent quarterly bulletin, the regulator said the general government debt ratio is estimated to have fallen to 102 per cent of GNI*, the Central Statistics Office’s bespoke measure of national income, last year.

Borrowing rates

“Favourable debt dynamics” are expected to lead to further improvements over the medium term, with the ratio projected to fall to below its pre-Covid level this year before declining to 84.9 per cent by 2024, it said.

“This represents a significant revision from the previous bulletin, primarily reflecting the quicker return to a primary surplus,” it said, noting Irish sovereign borrowing rates remain at low levels – supported by the European Central Bank’s Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme – while the medium-term maturity profile is favourable.

The National Treasury Management Agency continues to hold large cash balances, assisting sovereign funding flexibility, it said.

Support measures

“As noted in previous bulletins, there is a high level of uncertainty surrounding the fiscal outlook at present, but that uncertainty has reduced somewhat. In particular, uncertainties directly linked to the pandemic, such as the final cost of support measures, remain prominent,” the bank said.

The Government’s year-end budget deficit – the difference between what it spends and what it takes in in taxes – is expected to be under €10 billion this year compared to the expectation of €20 billion at the start of the year.

The smaller-than-expected figure was driven by stronger taxes and lower spending on the pandemic unemployment payment.