“I’m a hard grafter and, as some of them found out, they shouldn’t tangle with me too often” An Taoiseach Enda Kenny speaking after the Thursday night/Friday morning EU summit talks last week.
“With that the sun came out between the cloud and the hill, and it shining green in my face. “God have mercy on your soul,” says he, lifting a scythe; “or on your own,” says I, raising the loy.. He gave a drive with the scythe, and I gave a lep to the east. Then I turned around with my back to the north, and I hit a blow on the ridge of his skull, laid him stretched out, and he split to the knob of his gullet” Christy Mahon in The Playboy of the Western World
When Christy Mahon turned up in Pegeen Mike’s shebeen in JM Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, he was greeted as a man of mystery, as an exotic adventurer who had a wild tale to tell of killing his father with a loy (a sharp hoe for you non-turf cutters). It took less than a week for Old Mahon to turn up and puncture the myth, with the real story that Christy had merely dealt a cowardly blow to the old man when he had his back turned, and far from the worldly adventurer, he was a man to hide if he saw a woman, get ill if he took a drink and a vain man who spent his days admiring himself in a mirror.
Last Friday morning – against expectations, and indeed against previous form – An Taoiseach Enda Kenny emerged from the EU summit in Brussels to announce a game-changing concession to Ireland in the summit talks. We could hardly believe it, yet there in black-and-white in the summit communiqué was a prominent reference to Ireland– not to Portugal or Greece– and An Taoiseach’s words weren’t contradicted by the text. Back home in Ireland, journalists and some economists were embracing the development as highly positive for Ireland, and talk soon turned to the €63bn – €68bn if you count the €5bn in state aid paid by NAMA to the banks – cost of the bank bailout. How much would be refunded to Ireland, we wondered? Indeed on what basis or principle, would anything be refunded to Ireland or our debt burden be softened? At this point, the gushing triumphalism from official sources dried up. It might have been too much to expect a precise euro amount, but surely we might have expected some points of principle.
Yet the markets have rallied and Ireland’s benchmark 9-year bond is now trading at 6.23% compared with 7.4% a fortnight ago. This, despite the fact that the Finns and Dutch are seemingly not accepting the principle that the European bailout fund, the ESM, be used to buy sovereign bonds. And as for bank debt, the existing ESM rules make it clear that the ESM can only lend on a viable basis, and the ESM must cover its costs. There seems to be little chance of the ESM, in its current form, handing over billions of euro to Ireland in respect of the dead money cost of bailing out Anglo, for example. At best, it seems we might be able to sell our shares in the viable banks, AIB/EBS, Bank of Ireland and Irish Life, sooner rather than later. How much might these be worth? Low billions perhaps, and the ESM will only pay what the shares are worth.
Here’s the difficulty. None of us were behind the closed doors of the EU summit, and it is rare we get leaking of what actually took place. An exception was in March 2011, when Channel 4’s Faisal Islam reported that Enda Kenny had “grandstanded” at his first summit in his new role of An Taoiseach and managed to personally alienate some European leaders. Enda himself confirmed he had what he called a “Gallic spat” with the French president. But for the most part, we get very little about what actually is said.
So we rely on An Taoiseach in the first instance, and just a few short days after the summit, we might still be accused of doom-mongering or begrudgery in seeking or questioning the lower-level detail of what was agreed last week, and it is a fact that the interest rate offered on our bonds is keeping to a downward trend, but for all that, we have nothing tangible to focus on which might help us plan our finances.
It took less than a week for Old Mahon to turn up and put an end to one Mayo man’s tall tales. Let us hope that this other Mayo man’s claims are true, but several days after the event, the absence of detail is unsettling.