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In Ireland, the Jobs River Flows Uphill

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There’s a lot of confusion out there.  IBEC found the recent fall in consumer spending ‘puzzling ‘ – what with all the increase in employment.  Others have found it strange, too – strong employment growth but falling consumer demand.  Shouldn’t the big increase in employment translate into higher consumer spending and domestic demand?  What’s going on here?

Well, it’s only puzzling if you accept that employment grew by 60,000 over the last year.  However, once you lift the lid on the numbers and find that the 60,000-growth number in the CSO’s Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) is a statistical quirk, then it starts to make sense.

First, let’s note the CSO’s warning about interpreting trends in employment growth during the period they are realigning their sampling base with the 2011 census.  This realignment ensures that their Quarterly National Household survey sample is aligned with the population.  They do this after each census.

‘After each Census of Population the sample of households for the QNHS is updated to ensure the sample remains representative. The new sample based on the 2011 Census of Population has been introduced incrementally from Q4 2012 to Q4 2013. This change in sample can lead to some level of variability in estimates, particularly at more detailed levels and some caution is warranted in the interpretation of trends over the period of its introduction.’

Now let’s look at the employment numbers.  Between the 4th quarter in 2012 and 2013, employment grew by 60,900 – or 3.3 percent (not seasonally adjusted).  However, self-employment grew by 33,400, or 11.5 percent.  So, self-employment made up 55 percent of all employment growth.  Is this realistic?  No.

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That Tory Recovery in Perspective

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This post was originally published on Socialist Economic Bulletin on Tuesday the 18th of March.

This week George Osborne will announce his latest Budget. The specific measures in this Budget were not published at the time of writing. But it is a fairly safe assumption that he will boast that the economy is on track, and that there is a recovery. This is simply an exercise in redefinition.

The economy grew by just 1.9% in 2013. This is following a period of historically slow growth, the deepest recession in living memory and the weakest recovery on record. Yet many commentators and not just explicit supporters of austerity seem to believe this means we are automatically on track for a genuine recovery with all that means for growing jobs, rising real pay and improving living standards.

Unfortunately both the celebrations and the optimism are misplaced. Of course this does not mean that the economy will never grow again. It is even possible that growth will be a little better in 2014 than it was in 2013. But after most recessions the economic rebound is usually fairly strong. After a very steep recession the recovery should be very strong. That is not the case currently.

Annual growth in GDP of just 1.9% in 2013 is the best since 2007. But that is really a measure of the crisis of the economy and how badly policy has failed.

Prior to the current crisis, in the 20 years to 2008 the average annual growth rate of GDP was a little under 3%. In the same 20 year period from 1988 to 2008 only 3 years have seen worse growth for the British economy than last year’s 1.9% and all of those were associated with the recession under the Tories in the early 1990s (the ERM crisis).

So, a growth rate associated in the past with crisis is now redefined as recovery and heralded as success. Crisis is redefined as success; stagnation is now growth.

Current growth rates also remain well below the previous trend. That means the gap between where we are and where could or should have been is actually getting wider. It would take many years of sustained growth above that 3% rate in order to close the gap between the actual level of GDP and its previous trend. No major forecasting body suggests anything like that is going to happen over the next few years. The chart below shows the trend growth of Britain’s GDP in from 1988 to 2008.

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They Partied. We Pay: Public Meeting, Connolly Books, Sat. 29th of March @2pm

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We All Partied?

They Partied. We Pay.

Public Meeting

Sat 29th March, at 2pm

Connolly Books
43 East Essex Street,
Temple Bar,
Dublin 2

The Communist Party of Ireland would like to invite you to the first of our new series of public talks.

The first talk will deal with the establishment false claims that we have left the bailout and put behind us the “Programme For Ireland.”

Nothing more than spoof and spin.

Speakers:

Dr. Conor McCabe
(Author and Editor of Irish Left Review)

Gareth Murphy
(Trade Union Left Forum)

Kathleen Lynch
(Professor of Equality Studies, UCD)

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The Cuban 5: Obama is On the Wrong Side of History

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Here’s a true story. It’s about a Chicago born US citizen who has dedicated his life to fighting terrorist attacks against his country. It’s about a man that left his wife and 1 year old daughter to infiltrate renowned terrorist groups who have planned and executed many bombings and killed innocent victims, including tourists. This man worked assiduously and brilliantly in this anti-terrorist endeavour and put his life at risk to save others on many occasions. As well as providing evidence to the US state forces that helped catch and jail drug dealers and crooks he was a major part of a unit which presented a very thick file to the FBI about embedded terrorists on US territory. His reward?

He, along with four fellow members of his intelligence unit, were turned upon by a highly politicised US judicial system in South Florida and jailed by the USA, in his case for 15 years. He spent the early part of his incarceration in a solitary confinement unit usually reserved for the most violent prisoners and yet the man has never been accused of, let alone found guilty of, any violent act. Confused? Well the story is true, current and, if you are the man’s colleague Gerardo Hernandez – sentenced to two life terms and 15 years – an outcome that involves freedom in his lifetime is not planned. When I tell you that Rene Gonzalez and his four colleagues were working for Cuban intelligence to protect Cuba from terrorists based in Miami perhaps you will be less surprised. But you should be no less appalled.

There is something about sitting in the English Law Society in London’s Chancery Lane listening to this case that makes it’s facts all the more remarkable. That the facts were last week put to an International Commission of three esteemed Justices from France, South Africa and India is a good thing, for international justice has miserably failed these men to date. That the evidence includes contributions not only from the participants and their families, but from people of unquestionable international diplomatic and legal renown must surely mean that the USA will soon see sense and free the Cuban 5. We will return to the evidence later but for now, what is the case, and the International Commission about?

First let us imagine a small island of 14 million citizens just 90 miles from the Florida Keys and the southernmost coast of the world’s only remaining superpower, at least in the traditional sense. This island, Cuba, went from being a Spanish colony to an American plaything and, eventually the playground of the mob and America’s leading gangsters. Cuba was the mobs Las Vegas before Las Vegas was developed. All that changed in 1959 when Fidel Castro led a peasant revolution that, to the surprise of the watching world, drove the mob, their prostitutes and their drugs back across the Florida Straits to South Florida and Miami. Castro then declared the revolution to be a socialist revolution, some would say communist, and began to forge alliances with China and the Soviet Union, right on America’s doorstep.  Those that stayed and backed Castro have remained remarkably loyal in very trying circumstances. These circumstances include a US blockade that has stymied the Cuban economy, is denounced every year in the United Nations but which America’s UN veto allows it to maintain without UN sanction. Those that left, especially those who left in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, remain hate filled and bitter towards Castro, socialist Cuba and the revolution which they are determined to overthrow using whatever means is necessary. Despite their efforts Castro’s revolution has outlasted eleven US Presidents.

It is in this context that terrorism against Cuba has been a fact of life almost since the very start in 1959. While Castro’s victory at the Bay of Pigs and the infamous missile crisis of 1963, when Khruschev and Kennedy brought the world to the nuclear brink in a game of bluff, have been written and reported on voluminously the small island’s fight against ongoing terrorism is a lonely and often silent one. And while it would be wrong to blame the US as a nation for this terrorism, the fact remains that the terrorists live, fund raise and plan their acts from South Florida and have done so for over fifty years. It is probably the case that most readers have not heard about this terrorism against Cuba, about the long list of hotel bombings, crop poisonings including precious tobacco plants, infrastructure sabotage efforts and the never ending and bizarre attempts on Fidel Castro’s life that range from exploding cigars to beard poisoning agents.

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The Power of the ‘Virtual Senate’

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To learn who rules over you, French philosopher Voltaire said, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticise, or to paraphrase a little, not seriously criticise. But in 2014 in Ireland surely we can criticise who and whatever we want, isn’t that one of the cornerstones of democracy-free speech, freedom of expression, freedom to write whatever you want within certain legal and moral boundaries, defamation laws notwithstanding.  So who, or what, are we ruled over by. Who then can we not criticise, at least not seriously criticise anyway, not forensically, and least of all not in the papers and media outlets of record; the very same institutions that shape and set the agenda, and even manufacture opinion, and consent, to a largely passive audience.

This is not to say that criticism of a sort does not exist, often it is effective and succinct and written by commentators who are more than aware of the ideological parameters, rather it is to say that criticism when it actually does exist operates within very narrow boundaries of what can be said and printed, not to mention the narrow criteria upon which editorial decisions are made on what can be said, or perhaps even thought.  The more serious type of forensic criticism is filtered out, institutionally, ( obedience, conformity and compliance are not difficult to induce even in self-styled stroppy journalists) and sent packing to dissenting websites such as this one or perhaps to organisations such as Amnesty International, or to specialised human rights blogs for instance.

And so it is with the great behemoths of our day: the transnational corporation. If the Catholic Church or land-grabbing feudal fiefdoms were once the dominant institutions in our lives, then surely now, in the early 21st century, it is Apple, or Exxon Mobil, or Newscorp. They are so all pervasive as to be invisible, most of the time, as the truly dominant institutions must be.

Ideology always works best when it becomes normal, everyday, and commonplace ‘common sense’. For an example of how this ‘commonsense’ doctrine is mediated to us, one of thousands in our ‘newspapers of record’, take this ‘value-free’ economics article, particularly the first declaratory sentence.

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From Alpha to Omega Podcast: #047 The Failure of Capitalist Production

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This week I am delighted to have Prof. Andrew Kliman back on the show to talk about his latest book – ‘The Failure of Capitalist Production’. The book is a brilliant example of empirical economic research, and shows us how relevant and insightful Marx’s work still is, in helping us understand the workings of our capitalist economy.

We discuss the empirical evidence in the US that supports Marx’s Tendential Fall in the Rate of Profit, the stagnation of capital accumulation, and the role of the IT revolution in the state of the economy. We also talk of the Great Depression, how it sowed the seeds for the renewal of the global economy, and what is behind the growing inequality we see around us today.

You can find Andrew’s book on sale here: (I very much recommend buying a copy!)

And his blog is here.

Enjoy!

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Moments of crisis: Aer Lingus seeks millions from SIPTU over strike threat

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Sam Nolan, veteran socialist and trade unionist and long-standing Secretary of the Dublin Council of Trade Unions has post this personal message on Facebook today (14th March). I have commented on it below.

“Moments of crisis happen at certain stages of history. Such a moment is now upon the trade union movement. The threatened move by AER LINGUS to sue SIPTU for financial damages for a strike that did not take place is such a moment. This move is a threat to the future activity of every trade union in the country. There must be a sharp militant response from CONGRESS affiliated unions as well as a legal challenge. Labour in government must decide which class it represents.”

My comment:

There has been surprising little reaction from the unions, the left and even the blogosphere (or my sector of it) to the announcement that Aer Lingus was suing SIPTU over a strike that did not take place.

The action by Aer Lingus, for damages, breach of contract and, in at least one report I heard, conspiracy, has all the marks of the pre-1906 open season on trade unions. As the day wore on the need for someone authoritative in the labour movement to take a stand and make a clarion call was ever more pressing. It is no accident that it is Sam Nolan that has stepped forward and it is fitting and fortunate that it is he who has. Not only has he stood in the front line for decades but he has the respect and authority in the trade union movement to be taken seriously and to be heeded and followed.

When Sam Nolan says it – “Moments of crisis happen at certain stages of history. Such a moment is now upon the trade union movement” – you know it is not stock left rhetoric. It is not some hamburger merchant that is suing, it is the national airline, backed by the airport authority and also by the biggest anti-union outfit on the continent, the William Martin Murphy of 2014.

It is time for SIPTU and ICTU to fight before there is nothing left to fight for – or fight with. And fight with street mobilisation and industrial action, not just in the courts or with press statements which omit that the Labour Party is in government and, in this case, that the government is on the board of the union-busting company. I hope unions, union committees and Branch and Sector Committees can take up his call without delay and that, if there is a delay, the Dublin Council of Trade Unions can repeat its recurrent role of being the focus and the catalyst on crises facing the labour movement.

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Gas, Gender, and Ideology: Reflections on a Prime Time Debate

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As I sat in the audience of a Prime Time feature on Irish gas and oil (RTÉ, March 11, 2014), I wondered what I was doing there. I’m probably not the first person to ponder their attendance on such an occasion but it was a unique thought for me as I’ve been interested in the topic of Irish gas and oil for over 8 years. I’d also spent nearly 4 years conducting extensive research into the Irish state’s management of its gas and oil as the basis of my PhD in Sociology.

So why was I questioning my participation in the audience? This narrative piece explains why and illustrates how a seemingly innocuous event like a television debate can reveal issues of gender inequality, differing ideologies,  and questions of knowledge and ‘experts’, while problematising how the mainstream media frames discourse surrounding matters of public concern.

My reflection on the experience began with the question of why I wasn’t given the opportunity to participate in the debate. After all I’ve carried out comprehensive research into the subject of Irish gas and oil based on extensive documentary research, case studies, observations and interviews with 30 key stakeholders (including former Ministers, current and former senior civil servants, politicians, oil industry personnel, media, civil society, people affected by the Corrib gas conflict, and trade unionists).  I’d also assisted some of the other speakers with their publications. For example, I co-edited a new book by Own Our Oil (2014), contributed to Shell to Sea’s Liquid Assets (2012), and co-authored Optimising Ireland’s Oil and Gas Resources (SIPTU, 2011).

The lack of engagement didn’t make sense , particularly as during the equivalent of an hour of telephone conversations spanning two days, a Prime Time researcher had made it clear that the editorial team “really want[ed]” me there. While they couldn’t guarantee that I would have the opportunity to speak during the debate, it seemed most likely that I would be asked to contribute.

Indeed, this researcher and I agreed 3 key areas that I would highlight during my planned input: issues surrounding the control and ownership of Irish gas and oil, or  in plainer terms the privatisation of Irish hydrocarbons in exchange for one of the lowest rates of government take in the world; the absence of mechanisms for consultation or developing consent of communities for oil and gas developments; and fragmented and unsuitable permission systems as most evident in the Corrib gas debacle. I’d planned to locate these 3 topics within a broader statement around how the Irish state’s approach to the management of its gas and oil is fundamentally flawed and that the proposed review of Irish fiscal terms by Wood Mackenzie is insufficient to address the deficiencies inherent to the state’s model of hydrocarbon management.

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Friday Stat Attack – War is Peace, Ignorance is Strength, Recession is Recovery

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RTE’s David Murphy described the Quarterly National Account numbers as ‘really good’.  Professor John Fitzgerald said the numbers showed a ‘reasonably robust recovery’.   We are told the actual numbers  aren’t all that important– the ones that show economic growth actually declining in 2013, the ones that show that the decline in the final three months of last year was the worst quarterly performance since 2008.  Don’t mind any of that downer stuff.  Like the following chart.

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Domestic demand comprises consumer spending, investment and government spending on public services (excluding exports and imports).  This makes up 75 percent of GDP.  It is one of the better indicators of the domestic economy, but by no means the only one.   Another great advantage is that it is not as sensitive to multi-national accounting activities as other indicators.

So what does the above chart show?

A flat-line for the last three years.

Stagnation.

Six years of a domestic demand recession.

It goes up a bit and a down a bit (slightly more down), but never strays too far from the flat-line.  Domestic demand fell in three out of the last four quarters.  Since the Government took office, it has fallen seven out of eleven quarters.   In the final three months of last year, the fall in domestic demand was the most severe since 2011.  ‘Really good’?  ‘Robust’?

Some commentators pointed to rising GNP.   The problem with using GNP is that it is determined by international flows; if a company keeps profit here, GNP goes up; if they export it, GNP goes down.  Whichever the company does has little impact on the domestic economy.  So GNP went up last year – but it was not based on rising domestic activity.

RTE news last night, as part of its coverage of the CSO economic numbers, featured a successful café.  The owner claimed that patrons have started spending a little bit more – which I’m sure is true (the business opened its third outlet).  This anecdote was used to portray the entire economy as starting to grow through higher consumer spending.

But the CSO reported that consumer spending fell last year.  It fell faster than the year before – 2012.  It fell three times more than the year before.  Nothing on that in the RTE report – that would cut across the constructed narrative of an improving economy.

Sigh.

Have a good St. Patrick’s weekend.  Have a better one than the economy is having.

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Zugzwang

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Zugzwang

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The last frontier

is a turnip

under frozen mud.

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As this

generation

of journalists

brush up on their Russian-

 ss

the spelling of Simferopol

and Sevastopol

,will for a time,

be known

on Twitter

- people will gaze down

on the Crimea

through Google Earth,

surprised that there is

somewhere

more east than the Balkans

in the West.

 ss

A place

soon to be forgotten

like South Ossetia, Abkhazia,

or Sudetenland.

ss

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From Youth Guarantee to Mandatory Labour

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The Youth Guarantee programme is potentially a positive development.  To prevent long-term youth unemployment, the Government launched a programme that would guarantee young people either a place in education, training or a job.

However, a couple of developments put in question the operation and effect of this guarantee – and both revolve around our old friend, JobBridge.  First, as part of the Youth Guarantee Implementation Plan, JobBridge will now become mandatory:

In the case of young people, failures to engage that will give rise to sanctions will include:

  • Failure to apply for or accept an opportunity on the national internship scheme (JobBridge)

This suggests two things:  first, young unemployment must now pro-actively apply for JobBridge – something that wasn’t required before.  Second, it seems the Department will pro-actively create new JobBridge opportunities (that is, contacting employers to participate in the scheme) and then offering them to young unemployed; previously, JobBridge opportunities were generated by businesses alone.  This indicates a substantial increase in the scheme.

And the sanctions will be pretty harsh.  Young people could see their Jobseeker payment cut by up to 25 percent.

The second development is the news that one company – Advance Pitstop – has taken on 28 interns.  This company employs 200 people nationwide so the interns, whose labour is essentially free, make up 14 percent of their payroll.  Unsurprisingly, this made national news and not a little bit of criticism (this company is not the only one that has been featured in the media).

Should a scheme that provides labour to employers for free be mandatory?  Clearly, there are areas of social protection which are already mandatory.  For instance, a Jobseekers’ recipient must show they are available for, and actively seeking, work.  Past practice also requires recipients to meet with Department officials as part of the evaluation process, take up a ‘legitimate’ offer of training / job or attend an accepted training / education course (of course, there’s a number of issues with ‘legitimate’).

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Bishop Accuses Spanish Women of Holocaust

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I joined the International Women’s Day march in Valencia on Saturday night. Sources estimate between 10,000 and 20,000 people turned out for the event, from my perspective about 40 percent of those marching were men. Valencia is Spain’s third largest city, after Marid and Barcelona, where marches also took place. This day is usually a day of celebration of women in history and society as well as a chance to draw some attention back to the gender inequalities still present in work and pay. However, yesterday’s event also provided an opportunity to demonstrate the anger and exasperation building up around the new anti-abortion law being carried through the Spanish parliament by the conservative Partido Popular.

The proposal would overturn a very recent law (2010) that legalises abortion on demand in the first trimester, meaning that rape or a serious threat to the woman’s health – currently the conditions for abortion in the second trimester – would have to be proven by anyone seeking an abortion. I have read that somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the Spanish people oppose this bill. I’m not sure how accurate that is but the big turnout across Spanish cities for what is normally a fun family event was telling. The day before the protests I attended an assembly of women from the trade union Comisiones Obreras. The hall was filled with about 200 women and was brimming with anger. In one of the opening speeches tribute was paid to a lady called Concha Carretero who died on January 1st this year at the age of 95. Carretero’s story, as I grasped it in my broken Spanish, reminds me of the potency behind the word often used at Spanish protests – indignada.

Carretero, born in 1918, was first imprisoned when Franco’s army entered Madrid in 1939. Arrested after attending a meeting of the Juventudes Socialistas Unificadas (United Socialist Youth) on her first night in prison, she was beaten and electrocuted and made to clean up the blood of her fellow captives. Lying unconscious after a beating on the night of August 4th, 1939 her cellmates, thirteen women, were taken and executed by firing squad. Almost a year later, Carretero was released only to be quickly re-arrested. This time she avoided freezing to death when stripped naked and doused in buckets of cold water by exercising all night in her cell. By then Carretero’s father, an anarchist, had been found dead on the street, and her mother, who had suffered a serious injury when a lift fell on top of her while cleaning in the dark shaft, slept unbeknownst to her daughter under the archways of the prison where she was held. Not long after her release Carretero’s husband and father of her first child was arrested and shot by firing squad. Carretero’s crime had been her involvement and work with the Republican army, making clothes and minding the children of men and women on the front during the Civil War. But more than that it had been to dare challenge the might and divine authority of fascist Spain. Going on to re-marry and have five more children, Carretero attended the Almudena cemetery in Madrid every year to mark the anniversary of the execution of her thirteen cell mates, the Thirteen Roses, and every year she called for the “Third Republic”. (Further info here: Fallece Concha Carretero, compañera de las trece rosas rojas, by Gustavo Vidal Manzanares, nuevatribuna.es).

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Irelands’ Bank Guarantee: A Lesson In Class Power

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The following article by Conor McCabe, is taken from the first issue of the relaunched The Bottom Dog, published by the Limerick Council of Trade Unions. Copies of the full print issue are now available in Connolly Books. You can also follow The Bottom Dog on Facebook.  

At the start of 2013 the indepen­dent TD for Wicklow, Stephen Don­nelly, stood up in the Dáil and ta­lked about the bank guarantee. He said it was passed because ‘of a di­ktat from Europe that said no Euro­pean bank could fail, no Eurozone bank could fail and no senior bond­holders could incur any debt.’ It is a curious opinion to hold, as the on­ly foreign accents heard on the re­cently-released Anglo tapes are imitations done by Irish bankers of considerable wealth and influence.

The tapes shone a light on the short-term focus, the scramble for capital that was to the front of the bank’s management team. John Bowe, the head of Capital Markets at Anglo Irish Bank, told his collea­gue Peter Fitzgerald that the strate­gy was to get the Irish central bank to commit itself to funding Anglo, to ‘get them to write a big cheque.’ By doing so, the Central Bank wo­uld find itself locked in to Anglo as it would have to shore up the bank to ensure it got repaid.

The Irish financial regulator, Pat Ne­ary, in a conversation with Bowe, said that Anglo was asking his offi­ce ‘to play ducks and drakes wi­th the regulations.’ Once the gua­rantee was passed the bank’s CEO, David Drumm, told his executives to take full advantage but advised them to be careful and not to get caught.

This was reinforced by an article in the Sunday Independent on 17 No­vember 2013 which looked to the British Treasury’s archives for in­formation on Anglo and the bank guarantee. ‘The documents reve­al’ said the newspaper, ‘that the Fi­nancial Regulator tipped off Britain that Anglo might be “unable to roll €3bn [in funding] overnight,” but not to worry as if that happened the Central Bank or Government would step in to bail it out.’

The idea for a blanket guarantee, however, did not originate entirely with the Anglo management team, regardless of how much they em­braced it. In the weeks leading up to the decision, the idea of a gu­arantee was flagged in the natio­nal media by people such as David McWilliams and the property deve­loper Noel Smyth.

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Normal Euro zone Countries Don’t Export Their People

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The Live Register has fallen below 400,000 – the first time since May 2009.  While the Live Register is not an official measurement, the Seasonally Adjusted Standardised Unemployment Rate shows unemployment at 11.9 percent.  Our unemployment rate is now down to the Euro zone average.  This led the Minister for Social Protection to state:

‘Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton said the figures were encouraging and signalled Ireland’s return to being a “normal euro zone country”’.

Yes, when it comes to a straight unemployment rate we may well be a ‘normal euro zone country’.  But there’s something that has been not so normal and which has impacted directly on the Irish unemployment rate.  Yes, I’m talking about emigration.

Let’s compare the increase in Irish emigration since 2008 with that of other EU-15 countries.   We’ll do this by taking the annual average number of emigrants between 2008 and 2011 (the last year Eurostat has data for) and comparing it with the annual average number of emigrants between 1998 and 2007.

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Spain has been particularly hard hit – with over 400,000 emigrating in 2011.  Ireland comes second followed by Portugal.  After these three countries, the next hardest hit by emigration was Italy.

Irish emigration has been more than five times the average of other EU-15 countries.  In terms of emigration, Ireland is hardly normal.

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