Martin Vander Weyer’s Any other business
In the spirit of Richard Ingrams, who as our television critic many years ago reviewed a programme he had not seen but had heard through a hotel-room wall, I felt moved to write about Ireland on the strength of perusing a discarded copy of the Irish Times at a petrol station en route to Manchester for a day at the Tory conference. That tells you how dull I find party conferences, but there are also lessons to be drawn for the UK from the experience of a neighbouring economy whose crisis is both more profound and chronologically more advanced than our own.
It is commonly said that when Greece defaults, Ireland will go down next — but I can report from my pit-stop research and further enquiries that this is by no means the current view from Dublin. A rise in bank deposits in August, the first reversal of a massive outflow of funds that began last autumn, has been hailed by finance minister Michael Noonan as a sign of ‘growing national and international confidence in the Irish banking system’. A €75 million investment by Google in a new computer centre and the enlargement of a €340 million Microsoft data centre opened two years ago are described as ‘a virtual building boom’, fuelled by the special qualities of Irish air, which cools computers without the need for expensive chillers. Balancing this cheerfulness was a feature headed ‘How low can house prices go?’ — having quadrupled in the decade to 2007, they have fallen 43 per cent so far (compared with 11 per cent in Britain) and are expected to go on falling at least for another year.
But the overall Irish mood is remarkably upbeat, underpinned by a Reuters survey showing average GDP growth forecasts for 2011 raised to 1.4