‘Your recovery is in recovery – let loose, old boy’

Christmas Eve is a day for serene reflection as the chief undersecretary of finance keeps an eye on the shop for the Minister

“Spend. Spend. Spend. You must spend, spend and spend.” Photograph: Eric Luke

“Spend. Spend. Spend. You must spend, spend and spend.” Photograph: Eric Luke

 

The murmur of traffic is just audible on Merrion Street as he jolts awake from a mid-morning snooze. The Department of Financial Affairs is silent. He has the place to himself. At last.

Christmas Eve, a day for serene reflection as he keeps an eye on the shop for the Minister. No one around. Nothing to do. No phone ringing. He closes his eyes. It should be restful in here but his head hurts. He has been working too hard. There’s got to be more to life.

He is, however, the chief undersecretary of finance. When it’s merriment and frolics for everyone else, he gets fiscal. He drifts off again, resumes a restless old dream in which he is confronted – and confounded – by hoary external spirits.

“You are the Ghost of Christmas Present. What have you got to say to me?” he asks.

“Spend. Spend. Spend. You must spend, spend and spend. Your recovery is in recovery. Let loose, old boy. Let loose now.”

He is tempted to ask, “With what?” For, truth be told, he doesn’t really feel all that prosperous. Nothing, however, will rouse him from his slumber. He dozes on and on. “You are the Ghost of Christmas Future. What have you got to say to me?” he asks.

“Sell. Sell. Sell. You must sell, and sell, and sell. Threats ahead. Be warned, old boy. Be warned now.”

“No, no, no. Don’t say it. Don’t do it. Don’t make it be so. It’s Christmas for heaven’s sake. Where’s your heart? Shane McGowan is on the radio!”

Fearful as he may be, he sleeps on, oblivious to the wagging finger of dissent but suddenly attuned to the arrival, wholly uninvited, of another unkempt spirit with puckered eyes and wispy hair.

There is nothing to do but cower. “You are the Ghost of Christmas Past. What have you got to say to me?”

“Remember me?” croaks the spirit. “I was there at your moment of ruin, your torment, your pain. How easily you forget me but I am to be remembered. I am the creditors’ friend, the legatee of your legacy debts, the imbalance in your payments. Don’t forget me, old boy. Don’t forget me.”

He’s well and truly awake now. Rosy thoughts of Christmas interrupted by that dismal old ghost spouting terrible truths about old foes and old woes, all of them seemingly overcome after a period of stellar growth and renewal.

Then the phone lights up, the number a Limerick landline known only to the custodians of the national finances.

“Remember me?” whispers a familiar voice. “How’s it all going today? Allied Irish Banks are on the march, I suppose, and more lumps of money are coming in from the Revenue?”

“Well, Minister, there’s certainly been no fundamental change in the fundamentals since this morning. It’s the same old story really as far as I can see: 7 per cent and counting. Animal spirits at large on Grafton Street. Bags bulging. Credit cards in uproar. Oil down. Interest rates down. Bond yields down. Dollar up. Euro down. Deficit in decline.

“Sentiment up. Sales up. FDI high. Equity markets confident. Floods receding. Traffic very heavy on the Wild Atlantic Way. Spain a mess. Greece a mystery. “Brexit” a danger. But long live Mr Draghi, eh!”

“Leave Draghi out of it. We’re the architects here. We did it. Never mind that crowd in Frankfurt. There’s an election to fight, don’t you know. E-L-E-C-T-I-O-N!”

“Of course, Minister. The triumph is entirely ours . . . Your triumph actually, yours, all yours, absolutely, certainly. And further triumphs await, surely.”

“That’s more like it. Be nice for a change. You economists are all the same. You assume everything except responsibility for your prognosticating, except when you get it entirely right. Enough now of all that. Happy Christmas to you.”

Silence descends. The chief undersecretary of finance stretches his weary hand out, flicks on the Christmas lights, makes a list, and checks it twice. Another list.

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