Finally, Ireland exit the bailout and they might even stop eating pigeons


Anti-austerity protesters on O'Connell Street last week.
Anti-austerity protesters on O'Connell Street last week.

First, I want to assure you that, tough though it is for journalists here now, no pigeons were hurt during the writing of this column. 

You will have seen The New York Times story about how things are so bad in Ireland that an out of work company director has to hunt and shoot pigeons to survive. 

He has since admitted that this was a slight exaggeration.  Yes, he likes shooting as a sport and he may have shot the odd pigeon.

But the welfare payment here for someone like him who is out of work is €188 (or $258) a week. In the discount stores like Lidl and Aldi you can buy a week's food for less than a quarter of that.

So unless you're a really gullible New York Times reporter you're not going to believe that someone like that is depending on pigeons he shoots and barbecues in the back yard. 

The former company director does not deny that he said it.  The really shocking thing is that the reporter, Liz Alderman, who is chief European business correspondent for the Times, believed that this was how he fed himself.

She needs to get out more.  Or at least become more familiar with the Irish tendency to spin yarns.

Alderman was in Dublin recently to set the scene for Ireland's exit from the bailout last weekend. 
She told a cautionary tale.  And despite the dead pigeons story that she swallowed and regurgitated, she was right to do so.

So, leaving the pigeons to rest in peace, what does Ireland's exit from the bailout actually mean? 

Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny went on television to address the nation on Sunday night to mark the bailout exit and to explain exactly what is involved.

On Sunday we reached the end of the three-year bailout program which began at the end of 2010.  Over the three years we have been given €67.5 billion by the Troika -- the IMF, the EU and the ECB -- to keep the country going when we could not borrow money from anywhere else.

We have made considerable progress in getting our finances back on track, and at this stage the financial markets are now cautiously willing to lend to us again. So from now on we can manage without any more bailout money.

That means that we have our economic sovereignty back, or as much sovereignty as any other European country has these days.  Taking the Troika money meant that the Troika laid down the budgetary targets Ireland had to follow for the last three years.  Now that we are out of the program, instead of the Troika being in control of our finances, we are in charge again. 

But as Kenny made clear in his TV speech to the nation on Sunday night, it does not mean that our financial troubles are over.  Kenny put on his sternest face to emphasize that.

The fact is that we still have a long way to go to reach a position that is financially sustainable.  But it is only fair that we briefly pat ourselves on the back, as Kenny did. 

We are the only one of the European countries who got in a mess which has managed to get out cleanly and on time.  We're not Greece, which is still a mess, and we're not even Portugal, which is likely to need another bailout.

We managed to implement the tax hikes and spending cuts that were part of the bailout program without mass demonstrations on the streets.  All of this can be seen as a success. 

But it is success that has come at a heavy price.  It's much too soon for anyone here to go around singing “A Nation Once Again.”  Hence Kenny's serious face.

The Irish economy is still limping along. Unemployment is still 12.5 percent.  And it would be much higher except that tens of thousands of people, especially young people, are emigrating every year.

Since we started the so-called austerity program our budget deficit has come down bit by bit.  Under the Troika program we are supposed to reach the bailout target of a deficit of three percent of GDP by 2015, the level that all EU countries have agreed not to exceed.

The forecast deficit for 2013 is 7.3 percent of GDP, for 2014 it is 4.8 percent and for 2015 it is 2.9 percent.  But it is still a struggle and the last steps are the hardest to achieve.   Even though we have slashed state spending and hiked taxes in the last few years, our budget deficit next year, for example, will still be around €10 billion.