Taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny will be in at the deep end as Ireland’s coalition attempts to deal with the country’s economic plight. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA
The campaign rhetoric seeps through Fine Gael and Labour’s freshly minted “Programme for Government” unveiled Monday after they agreed the terms of the coalition which hopes to lead Ireland out of recession and the clutches of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Its opening gambit is a declaration of “common purpose” noting that on 25 February (election day, in case anyone had forgotten) “a democratic revolution took place”.
It solemnly goes on to talk of Ireland facing “one of the darkest hours in the history of our independent state” and invokes the great Albert Einstein by saying we should “learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow” and how an “unprecedented level of political resolve” is needed to get the country on its feet again.
Although it is clear on some things – such as reversing the cut in the minimum wage, which is against the terms of the IMF bailout – by and large the rhetoric in the document is going to get the coalition only so far.
With regard to banking and the IMF/EU bail out, here are the main pledges:
• “We will seek a reduced interest rate.” This it is likely to get as there is wide acknowledgement that the 5.8% rate is unsustainable. The question is how much by?
• “We will attack the utmost priority to avoiding further downgrading of Ireland’s sovereign credit rating.” It fudges the detail on this though and says it will set further capital spend by the state at “a level consistent with national debt sustaintability”.
• “We will defer further recapitalisation of the banks until the solvency stress tests are complete.” This is the big one. The PCAR and PLAR tests being undertaken will be complete at the end of March and are widely expected to expose even further need for recapitalisation at AIB. If AIB is worse than expected and Anglo Irish is as bad as chairman Alan Dukes has indicated, could we be talking about a second bailout? Dukes reckons Ireland will have to go cap in hand for another €15bn (£12.8bn) just to save the Irish banking system.
Sale of AIB assets?
• “We remain committed to a smaller banking system” but it says “to limit further calls on the state to cover bank losses from distressed asset sales, bank deleveraging must be paced. This is interesting. The coalition is obliged under the deal with the IMF to shrink the size of the banks but which would cause greater damage – losses from a fire sale or the continuing liquidity problem which require even greater capital injection than presently foreseen. Interestingly, one proposal, according to the Sunday Business Post editor Cliff Taylor, is to split AIB and possibly Bank of Ireland into two banks – one dealing with core assets and the other with non-core assets.
Credit for small businesses
• “We will ensure that an adequate pool of credit is available to fund small and medium-sized businesses.” The devil will be in the detail here as there is a widespread feeling that the lack of credit is smothering SMEs in Ireland. (If you are a small business and have experience of this please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org as I would like to return to this issue).
Restructuring bank boards
• “The new government will restructure bank boards and replace directors who presided over failed lending practices.” This is well-meaning but possibly doesn’t go far enough – what about staff in bailed-out banks, senior executives and middle management, who presided over failed lending practices?
End transfers to NAMA
• “We will end further asset transfers to NAMA, which are unlikely to improve market confidence in either the banks or the state.” Again, specifics are needed. It it going to end all transfers that haven’t happened or set a threshold – say all property development loans under €5m?
Transparency at NAMA
• “We will insist on the highest standards of transparency in the operation of NAMA.” Again, what does this mean? Those involved in the establishment of NAMA say it is politically popular to demand greater transparency but that NAMA, like any bank, will retain “customer confidentiality”.
Global pool of finance managers to be assembled
• “We will openly construct a pool of globally experienced finance services managers and directors to be inserted into key executive and non-executive positions in banks receiving taxpayer support.” International banking executives won’t be forming an orderly queue for these jobs unless there is some detail on pay scales and these are currently capped at the highest levels.
All it says on remuneration is this : “All remuneration schemes at banks subject to state support will undergo a fundamental review to ensure an alignment of interest between banks, their staff and the taxpayer.”
• “We will ban all bank bonuses …”
… I made that one up. Bank bonuses don’t get a mention, as far as I can see. This is possibly because bonuses in the bailed-out banks were effectively banned by the finance bill rushed through the Dail in January government through a 90% tax on bank bonuses.
However, it is the culture of bonuses even at the lowest levels in banking that lead to the reckless lending in the first place and some sort of policy detail on this would have not gone awry here.
The document is detailed and full of the right kind of rhetoric. For this week. After that it’s straight in at the deep end for the taoiseach-in-waiting Enda Kenny and Michael Noonan, who is expected to be named finance minister as they try to persuade Europe to save Ireland from bailout number two.