It’s probably the circles I move in, but I don’t come across Dustin the Turkey much at all these days. For those unfamiliar with Dustin, he’s a bomber-jacketed boot-boy from Ballymun or Ballyfermot in Dublin. Plain-speaking and irreverent, he captured hearts and imaginations as a TV personality here. And in 2008 he was chosen to represent Ireland in the Eurovision song contest with the suggestively-titled “Irelande douze pointe”. Happily he didn’t win or even get to the finals; “happily” because at that stage Ireland was slipping into an economic crisis and the last thing the nation needed was to have to host the song contest the following year if we had won. Dustin still crops up from time to time – a cameo on a Christmas show here, an X-Factor appearance there, but as far as I can tell he is now semi-retired.
And of course Dustin is a puppet. Literally.
Today An Taoiseach Enda Kenny is jetting off to the latest gathering of EU leaders in Brussels, where this evening they will start work on the latest wheeze to save the euro, or to be more precise how to deal with presently over-indebted nations, how to prevent nations becoming over-indebted in future and how to fund the debt of EU nations and their banks given no-one wants to lend to us anymore. Leaders are running out of superlatives for these summits and at the last summit in October, Taoiseach Kenny assured us that the EU had not just understood the problem, but had created a final solution. It will be amusing to see what modification is made to the superlatives this time round to lend credibility to any outcome.
At stake for Ireland is the treatment of our debt, particularly our bank debt and to be precise the €28bn promissory notes in the Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC, the merged entity comprising Anglo and Irish Nationwide Building Society). Remember the Government’s claims at the start of November 2011 that Anglo “was repaying its bonds out of its own resources”. Well that is technically true in the sense that the Govt gave Anglo €29bn of capital, mostly in promissory notes. Anglo exchanged these promissory notes at the Central Bank of Ireland for cash. And the cash was handed over to the bondholders. Technically true, but each year for more than a decade, Ireland will need find €3bn in cash to pay for these promissory notes. And Ireland doesn’t want to pay €30bn plus interest for a failed bank so that it can repay bondholders.
Also at stake at the EU summit for Ireland is the protection of our 12.5% corporate tax rate, a bedrock of our economic policy. Emerging from Brussels is the suggestion that the Common Consolidated Corporate Tax Base (CCCTB) is back on the table, which means that Ireland may well be free to maintain whatever tax rate it wants but new rules determining the country where income arises will mean that our tax rate may no longer be attractive – if Google generates income in France at present then that income is booked in Dublin and corporate tax is charged here, under the CCCTB rules Google may be forced to declare its income in France and pay French tax. Some non-Irish observers may say that CCCTB is perfectly sensible but they might want to examine their own country’s tax codes first.
So what would happen if some mandarin from the Department of An Taoiseach were to mosey on down from Merrion Street this morning to O’Connell Street, pop into Easons and purchase a Dustin the Turkey puppet for €19.99. And then put Dustin in a government car where he would be whisked out of the city, along the quays eventually giving way to suburbia and then the brown/green melancholy of an Irish winter countryside until he eventually arrived at the Casement Aerdrome in Baldonnel, west Dublin..
There he would be met by the support staff to the Government jet. And he would be placed in a seat where he would sit still and watch the world pass beneath him, Ireland, the Irish Sea, northern England, the North Sea until he landed in Brussels Airport. His sachet of peanuts unopened, his un-drunk coffee cold.
And in Brussels, he would be met by Irish consular staff who would bring him to the European Council at the Justus Lipsius building. And there he would at last be taken out of his wrapping and flung on some seat at the summit table where he would remain this evening and tomorrow.
And when the summit concluded tomorrow he would be removed, and probably used as a free Christmas present by one of the consular staff.
You probably wouldn’t expect Dustin to be very successful. But remember the other 26 members of the EU also play a role in support of Ireland. Putting aside the worthy notion of solidarity, you would expect countries to act in their own national interest. So if Ireland’s tax arrangements were being threatened, you might expect other countries with similar rates to pipe up to protect their own patches. So Cyprus with a headline corporate tax rate of 10% or Latvia with an effective tax rate on profits of 6.5% may not have any particular loyalty to Ireland but they might see the attack on Ireland’s tax rate as a precursor to an attack on their own economies. And more generally, you would expect a family of nations to act together to deter behaviour which victimises one nation. So even though Dustin might not have anything to say or do at the summit, you would still expect Ireland’s interests to be protected to an extent.
Of course Enda Kenny is no €19.99 puppet. His €200,000 annual salary, TD’s pension, expenses, pension contributions, unregistered gifts and entertainment must surely give us some assurance of the man’s worth. And he doesn’t act alone; he has an astute €170,000-a-year finance minister, a finance ministry with a staff of 700, €168,000-a-year special advisers not to mention a communications chap paid €35,000 over the Government’s own guidelines, a €190,000-a-year Tanaiste who doubles as a foreign affairs minister, and separately a €130,000 Europe minister (Lucinda Creighton). So An Taoiseach will have an expensively produced strategy with well thought-out tactics, he will have overseen the creation of alliances with other EU countries, notably the UK and the other PIIGS and low tax-rate countries, he will have briefed our partners on why GNP is a more appropriate measure of Ireland’s economy and the risks of having debt:GNP at levels over 140%. He will be word-perfect on the need for a stimulus and naturally he will be well-versed on the economics of our corporate tax rate.
Unlike Dustin, he will not sit silently around a table of his peers; he will communicate a message, provide our partners with helpful information and will build on previously-forged alliances to promote Ireland’s objectives. And he will emerge tomorrow after the summit, avoid the photocopier room this time (remembered here with Lucinda doing her sex-face impression in the background), and give a statesmanlike interview with RTE in which he will detail his achievements to the nation. On Sunday last we had a down-at-the-mouth state of the nation address; tomorrow An Taoiseach will lift our spirits.
With the country bankrupt and dependent on a bailout to pay its way week-to-week, we expect no less from one of the most expensive governments in Europe.
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