Slash and Tax get their groove on - yes, the boys are back in town


The IMF man was a disappointment. Not particularly for anything he said, but because he wasn’t AJ Chopra

GUESS WHO just got back today? Them bailout boys that had been away; Not much changed since they last came to stay; But man, they still think our stats are great . . .

It was quarterly return time again yesterday and as poor Mother Ireland presented herself for another pat on the head from the visiting international overlords, we felt a song coming on.

Nothing like a bit of Thin Lizzy to keep the spirits up when the Government is trying to make a big show of scraping a measly film of jam across the shrivelling national crust.

All together now: The troika’s back in town! The troika’s back in town! And don’t forget to smile when you sing it. We must be grateful for what we’ve been given.

They think we’re wonderful.

As Istvan Szekely from the EU put it: “I’m certainly convinced this is good for you.” Had he taken a short stroll after his press conference in European Commission headquarters to the Department of Education headquarters on Marlborough Street, he may not have been so certain. Over a thousand teachers, parents and children were protesting there against cuts to disadvantaged schools.

There were cakes in Molesworth Street when the troika called.

“Bigger than the last time,” remarked one financial commentator, seeing this as a positive indicator of an improvement in our market position.

The three Bailout Boys from the ECB, the EU and the IMF were most complimentary about Ireland’s efforts to stick to the austerity programme they set.

“I see encouraging changes,” said Klaus Masuch of the ECB, who felt the Irish are showing a “great understanding” of why they are being forced to endure such a severe course of fiscal action.

“I’m impressed by the depth of discussion in Ireland,” declared Klaus, before ruining our brief restoration of national pride.

“My taxi driver from the airport was very, very informed, I must say. Very, very informed.”

They can talk on any subject, those lads.

Smart fella. Klaus probably gave him a handsome tip for his insight.

It’s well known that cab drivers the length and breadth of Ireland are united in their opinion that austerity is our only path to salvation.

The man from the IMF was a disappointment. Not particularly for anything he said, but because he wasn’t AJ Chopra, the man who had become the face of the troika since that famous night we handed them our economic sovereignty.

He had a colourful turn of phrase and the added attraction of a perfect nickname – Chopper.

Yesterday, Craig Beaumont had taken his place. He was much more dull and his surname only served to remind us of the effect of austerity on our hospitals.

But the three men must be good company. Earlier in the day, Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin gave a press conference in Government Buildings to announce we had passed the latest review of our “programme of assistance” with flying colours.

Messers Slash and Tax were smiling broadly when they arrived to break the good news. Minister Noonan (Tax) said that he and Minister Howlin (Slash) had come directly from a three-hour meeting with the troika.

They looked none the worse for it and seemed in good spirits. Noonan wore that familiar half smile, the one doctors switch on when they take out a big needle and soothe: “bend over now, this won’t hurt a bit.”

They were delighted with themselves. (While not forgetting that it’s terrible, to be sure, for a lot of people experiencing the cuts.) “We have good allies in the troika now,” said Brendan. “The troika has clearly indicated to us that we have met all the targets we were set.”

Michael was very proud of the Government. They had dispatched 90 of the recommended measures in the first year.

“When you think of the reputational damage to Ireland, progress has been made beyond my expectations.” And we’re miles better than Portugal too.

After listening to the pair of them, we felt like running across to the nearest travel agent and booking a Mediterranean cruise.

Tax and Slash answered questions for an hour. Clearly, they were on top of their brief and, if you overlook the grim reality of what these measures are doing to so many lives, they were impressive.

And happier when dealing with the broader financial issues and the more abstract language of international balance sheets.

“It’s going to be a very difficult year for a number of the big-spending departments,” said Brendan, leaving the consequences hanging in the air.

The thorny subject of “The Promissory Note” was eventually broached – this is the fancy State IOU that has saddled the innocent taxpayer with Anglo-Irish Bank’s massive debts.

Discussions are under way in Europe to replace these notes with a new structure which would deliver a more favourable rate to Ireland, said the Minister for Finance.

It was good to hear that the troika is lending a sympathetic ear on the subject. They must have been watching Vincent Browne fulminating about the issue during their long nights in the Merrion Hotel.

As for the aforementioned Vincent, he arrived at the press conference to tackle them on the promissory notes. In the process, he gave them a lecture on how the Irish media expects questions to be answered at these events but got no answers from the diffident visitors.

He asked Klaus Masuch if his taxi driver asked him about the Anglo notes. Klaus didn’t say.

However, all three reiterated that they are delighted with Ireland’s progress. “There are no concerns.” Cuts and gold stars all round.

Suppose we should be happy, so.