Lenihan gets good response at 'routine' IMF meeting


FINANCE MINISTER Brian Lenihan is eager to clear up any misunderstanding. He did not come to the IMF/World Bank annual meeting this weekend with a begging bowl. He is not here to prepare the groundwork for a bailout at some later date. His attendance for the first time in two years was perfectly routine.

Mr Lenihan yesterday attended the plenary session of the IMF, then met with IMF officials who constantly liaise with Ireland about the economy. “No more can be read into it than that,” he said. “I think that’s very important, and I’d like that stated on the record and part of the story.

“I really do not want to see a headline in Ireland saying ‘Minister meets IMF’ at present. It is a normal attendance for the minister to be here at the annual meeting, and it is normal as part of that meeting that you meet the officials who liaise with Ireland.”

The Minister said the IMF “has expressed considerable confidence in how the Government are managing what is admittedly a difficult position in Ireland . . . I’m not blowing a trumpet on this, but that’s their position.”

Mr Lenihan said he was not “committing [the IMF] to the whole, or suggesting they are card-carrying members of Fianna Fáil party, but the IMF certainly agree with the broad Government policy of recent years.”

The IMF share his view that the €3 billion in cutbacks originally planned were now insufficient, and that “it will now be necessary for Ireland to do a bigger fiscal correction this year” all the while being “careful to protect the economy as well”.

Asked what message he will convey to his counterparts in Washington, and to investors in New York next week, Mr Lenihan said: “We have done a huge economic adjustment in Ireland in terms of prices, wages and asset values. We are a far more competitive economy. We are a good place to invest.”

The Minister said that the “pipeline of projects” from the US “has continued to be a very full one” and that Ireland has continued to attract international investment in multinational enterprises.

Mr Lenihan said that although Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the managing director of the IMF, spoke of the global economy, not Ireland specifically, in the plenary session, he found his remarks very pertinent.

“He highlighted the fact . . . that public debt is a problem throughout the world economy at present. Ireland is not unique in that regard.

“He also highlighted the risk of jobless growth, where the danger of a lost generation due to joblessness can arise.

“He drew attention to bank regulation and reform and the progress that had been made there, and warned us of the risks in returning to protectionism.

“He did make the point, which resonated very much with me as an Irishman, that we’d avoided the risks of the great depression of the 1930s by preventing bank collapse. But that we also had to be vigilant against the risk of economic nationalism.”