REG: They’ve bled us white, the bastards. They’ve taken everything we had, and not just from us, from our fathers, and from our fathers’ fathers.
LORETTA: And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
STAN: And from our fathers’ fathers’ fathers’ fathers.
REG: Yeah. All right, Stan. Don’t labour the point. And what have they ever given us in return?!
XERXES: The aqueduct?
XERXES: The aqueduct.
REG: Oh. Yeah, yeah. They did give us that. Uh, that’s true. Yeah.
COMMITTEE MEMBER #3: And the sanitation.
LORETTA: Oh, yeah, the sanitation, Reg. Remember what the city used to be like?
REG: Yeah. All right. I’ll grant you the aqueduct and the sanitation are two things that the Romans have done.
MATTHIAS: And the roads.
REG: Well, yeah. Obviously the roads. I mean, the roads go without saying, don’t they? But apart from the sanitation, the aqueduct, and the roads–
COMMITTEE MEMBER: Irrigation.
COMMITTEE MEMBER #2: Education.
REG: Yeah, yeah. All right. Fair enough.
COMMITTEE MEMBER #1: And the wine.
COMMITTEE MEMBERS: Oh, yes. Yeah…
FRANCIS: Yeah. Yeah, that’s something we’d really miss, Reg, if the Romans left. Huh.
COMMITTEE MEMBER: Public baths.
LORETTA: And it’s safe to walk in the streets at night now, Reg.
FRANCIS: Yeah, they certainly know how to keep order. Let’s face it. They’re the only ones who could in a place like this.
REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
XERXES: Brought peace.
REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up!
From Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian”, mixed feelings about the Roman occupation of Israel
The IMF missionaries are due back in the next fortnight to start their 10-day quarterly review of our adherence to the Memorandum of Understanding which sets out the terms under which the IMF has lent us €22.5bn. It might be worth remembering that the IMF came on the scene in November 2010, more than two years after our disastrous banking guarantee and after our GDP had seen a vertiginous drop, when we had 10%-plus deficits, when we had unemployment of 14% and when we were locked out of international bond markets which refused to lend to us at sustainable rates. The IMF is loaning Ireland, a developed “First World” country an extraordinary amount of money by the IMF’s traditional lending standards, the IMF is charging us the standard rate which applies to the most impoverished country and the IMF’s main concern for Ireland is that we get back on our feet, deal with our unsustainable deficit and repay the IMF. Of course when it comes to closing our €13bn annual deficit, there will be difficult decisions which involve cuts and taxes even if we can deliver growth and investment, and because the IMF is at the centre of these discussions, it gets tarred with a brush for something which is not of its making. Remember also that IMF was supportive of Ireland imposing losses on bondholders.
An Toaiseach Enda Kenny has expressed his wish to wave goodbye to “Ajai Chopra and the IMF” at the airport at the end of next year. To the extent that such a wish is based on the hope that Ireland has gotten off its economic knees and is able to manage its budget, and obtain loans to finance any minor deficits, that is a hope we can all share. But to the extent that the IMF is delivering unprecedented reforms in the country in the face of opposition from the usual vested interests, it is not an exaggeration on here to say that the departure of the IMF at the end of 2013 is a worry, because the IMF has indeed delivered and plans on delivering historic reform to the way this Republic works.
You can thank the IMF for the residential property price register unveiled yesterday, you can thank the IMF for the – albeit limited – reform to our draconian, distorting, uncompetitive, uncapitalist, unsocialist bankruptcy regime, you can thank the IMF for an independent fiscal council which is still finding its way, you can thank the IMF for putting reforms to competitiveness in our legal and medical sectors on the table though there is obviously still much to do in these areas, you can thank the IMF for the central credit register which will promote responsible borrowing and lending. Some of these reforms need be fully realised – as the IMF recently noted, Ireland has the second highest expenditure on public health relative to GDP in the world, yet we have poor health outcomes, we have one of the highest expenditures in the world on public education yet our education results are mediocre, 20% of our medication is cheap non-generic compared with 80% in the UK. With respect to Kilkenny’s triumph yesterday, maybe it is the IMF members who should be carried aloft on shoulders to their next meeting at the Department of Finance, because the IMF is delivering real reform.
As a close observer of the IMF intervention in Ireland, it is almost comical to see this Government bend over backwards at the last minute to reluctantly implement the terms of the bailout. The fiscal council was supposed to have been up and running by Q2, 2011 and it was on 7th July 2011 when its members were appointed just in time for a review mission. We had the Personal Insolvency Bill in June just ahead of an IMF review and the IMF was not going to let the deadline for that term slip again.
There are still major reforms which will be fought against tooth-and-nail by the usual suspects, and you might recall that even the late Brian Lenihan admitted that in office he was overcome at times by the onslaught from vested interests. But as yesterday’s property price register demonstrates, when this Government is under close scrutiny from lenders it will comply with the conditions of the bailout. Those politicians who do want to see reform, and the media might do worse than hold the IMF to account to the softer terms of the Memorandum of Understanding, the so-called qualitative terms. And let’s use this unfortunate episode in our progress as a Republic to make this a better place for all.