Wednesday, 31 March 2021
Post-European Council Meeting: Statements
It has been reported in recent weeks that Ireland's share of the EU's pandemic recovery and resilience fund may be reduced by somewhere in the region of €321 million as a result of GDP figures over-inflating the health of the Irish economy. Unfortunately, this comes as no surprise to me and many others. I have been highlighting the inappropriateness of GDP as a measure of the condition of the Irish economy for some time. Despite the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, forecasting that real GDP would decline by 12.4%, somehow this country, with the longest lockdown in the EU and record unemployment numbers, not only managed to grow but outgrew all of its EU peers. I cannot imagine that it is just me who thinks that there is something seriously off here. Lots of developed nations would not sneer at GDP growth of 3.4% in a normal year so to record that during a global pandemic certainly seems like the stuff of divine intervention.
The reality is that the ESRI, the Central Bank and even the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, IFAC, are aware that this measure is more or less useless for international comparisons. In fact, from an Irish perspective it is worse than useless because it is proving harmful to usvis-à-visthe reduction in pandemic emergency funds and the oversized contributions we have to make to the EU budget. GDP is a metric that is hurting this country. Basically, the use of GDP means that we have to contribute more to the EU budget than we should and, as the example of the pandemic emergency fund shows, we receive less than we deserve. In the EU's defence, it is not singling us out here. The fact is that Ireland's distorted GDP figures are the product of the kind of economy that successive Governments have constructed. Herein lies the triumph and the tragedy of this metric that is bandied out, with which some people sense there is something amiss but most do not stop to question. It is very clear that it is simply a vanity metric at this point. I ask the Minister of State to raise and address this issue at Cabinet and at a European level.
I also want to raise the case of Julian Assange. My colleague Deputy Andrews and I raised this with the Tánaiste last month and I raise it again today because I am deeply concerned at reports about Mr. Assange's poor state of health, which is being exacerbated by harsh prison conditions. As elected representatives of the Irish people it is our democratic duty to be vigilant about human rights abuses both at home and abroad. Mr. Assange's case is of particular interest as the charges against him relate to his role as a journalist and publisher. His incarceration in a prison institution designated for those deemed to be the most dangerous in British society is of considerable concern. A country's defence or suppression of freedom of speech and of the press is a touchstone of how healthy its democracy remains. The Minister of State may also be aware that in recent days even the Pope has written to Mr. Assange. I ask the Minister of State to raise this case with the British ambassador at his earliest convenience.