Ever attention-seeking Farage takes his leave from EU Parliament

Business Week: also in the news were wealth, the economy, housing and corporate deals

Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, surrounded by associates in ties emblazoned with Union Jacks, made one final attempt to grandstand in the European Parliament this week before he was stopped in his tracks by Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness.

MEPs had just voted overwhelmingly to endorse the Brexit agreement, giving a clear go-ahead to the departure of the UK from the EU. It was by all accounts a tearful, sad day for many present, but Farage couldn’t resist lording it over them nonetheless.

“We love Europe – we just hate the European Union,” he shouted, before he and his associates picked up the miniature Union Jacks they had brought in with them – flouting the rule that forbids national flags in the chamber – and began waving them furiously.

“I know you want to ban our flags,” he said. “But we’re going to wave you goodbye, and we’ll look forward to working with you as sovereign...”


And that was enough for McGuinness, the parliament’s vice-president, who promptly cut his microphone.

“If you disobey the rules, you get cut off,” she told him, as Farage resumed his seat for the last time. “Put your flags away. You’re leaving, and take the flags with you if you are leaving now.”

For all the whooping of the Brexiteers as the UK finally left the EU on Friday night, those shackles they so desperately wish to shed will remain very much in situ for another 11 months as both sides try to thrash out a trade deal during the transition period.

The 11 months, of course, is only a minimum, and pretty much nobody outside the UK believes a deal can be done by the December deadline. UK premier Boris Johnson this week rejected Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's assertion that an extension will be needed.

“I have to say this is one of those rare occasions where I’m going to be obliged to respectfully disagree with my friend the Taoiseach, and just say I think we can wrap all this up in the time we’ve got,” Johnson said.

Even if a deal is done by December, trade between the Republic and the UK is going to suffer “considerable disruption”, Irish Ministers were told in a special Cabinet briefing on Wednesday morning.

For all Johnson’s talk of respect the truth is that Anglo-Irish relations over the last couple of years have fallen to lows not seen in recent memory. Nearly 90 per cent of Irish business leaders this week said the Government needed to “actively address” this.

Varadkar gave us a reminder of where things are at this week when he pointed out that British ignorance about affairs on this side of the Irish Sea was “very badly exposed” during the Brexit negotiations.

On the business front, Greencore chief executive (and brother of Tánaiste Simon Coveney) Patrick Coveney said the Irish food giant would gradually begin to increase the percentage of British nationals as against EU citizens in its workforce now that Brexit is under way.

Fears of ‘Cetic Tiger overheating’

Memories and, indeed, legacies of the economic crash have led to the sounding of an imaginary klaxon inside the heads of most Irish people when references to the Celtic Tiger are made – and in particular when related to construction.

This week it was the turn of property consultants Mitchell McDermott who warned that the construction sector was now under “Celtic Tiger levels of pressure” and at risk of overheating as a result of a significant acceleration in wages and prices.

The report estimated that construction output grew by 12 per cent to €23 billion last year, while the number of construction workers grew by only 6,000 or 4 per cent. This has pushed wage costs higher, it said.

All that calls into question the proposed solutions and promises of those clamouring for your vote in the general election this day week as the study also questioned whether the industry had sufficient manpower to build the 40,000 housing units being promised.

In addition, the Society of Chartered Surveyors in Ireland said the cost of land for houses remained “prohibitively expensive”, with the price of land for a three-bed semi-detached house about €60,000, or 20 per cent, of the total cost of the property.

More generally, the high cost of living here was cited as a possible reason for the low take-up of the Start-up Entrepreneur Programme, which is particularly aimed at migrants. It was established in 2012 to attract high-potential start-ups here from outside the EU.

In more positive news – on paper at least – Irish households are 80 per cent wealthier than they were at the low point of the recession, according to new figures from the Central Statistics Office.

The median or typical net wealth of Irish households in 2018 was €184,900. This was 80.2 per cent higher than the €102,600 recorded in 2013, thanks in the main to rising property values, which boost the wealth of households that own their own home.

The figures, however, highlighted a stark disparity between rich and poor households, with the wealthiest 10 per cent found to have a net wealth greater than €835,000, while the bottom 10 per cent had a net wealth of less than €1,000.

Meanwhile, a “health check” of the economy by Goodbody suggested it would grow by 3.6 per cent this year, but challenges including Brexit, corporate tax reform and housing would remain a threat.

Sickener for consumers

Consumers received a fresh blow this week with news that health insurer VHI is to increase its prices by an average of 2 per cent across a range of plans from March 1st. That follows an average 6 per cent rise in the price of its plans last August.

In corporate news the big deal of the week was the sale of Irish computer chipmaker Decawave to US-based Apple supplier Qorvo for $400 million. Staff at the company are expected to share a $60 million (€54.4m) payout.

Elsewhere, global biopharmaceutical company Allergan is to create 63 jobs following an investment of €160 million in its Westport, Co Mayo, facility in advance of a takeover by Abbvie, which is due to complete in March.