On Wednesday afternoon, excerpts from a speech by the Irish finance minister Michael Noonan to the Bloomberg Ireland Economic Summit in Dublin, purportedly copied from the Irish Times website, appeared on PoliticalWorld.org. The contributor, PaddyJoe, accused the newspaper of removing a paragraph from an earlier version of the story, in which Noonan, speaking about the Irish government’s ability to secure a ‘Yes’ vote in the upcoming referendum on the European fiscal compact, was apparently quoted as saying:
In all other countries people are concerned about growing inequality. In Ireland we need to keep focus on more important issues of corporate profitability and tax protection we offer international organisations. This is not the time for drastic moves to the left simply to suit populist demands for simplistic idealism of ‘social justice’.
The story quickly spread on social media. Most people, including me, interpreted Noonan’s surprisingly frank comments as yet another example of the Irish political phenomenon that Conor Cruise O’Brien, paraphrasing Charles Haughey, called GUBU: grotesque, unbelievable, bizarre and unprecedented. And, by extension, almost certainly true.
Noonan, a pugnacious Fine Gael member of the Dáil since 1981, was already on record as having told the same Bloomberg event that there was no threat of contagion from the crisis in Greece spreading to Ireland: ‘If you go into the shops here, apart from feta cheese, how many Greek items do you put in your basket?’
By yesterday evening, it was clear that Noonan’s unbelievable quotes about his government’s commitment to corporations over citizens couldn’t be believed.
An Irish hacker and anarchist claims to have inserted the paragraph into the original news report of the Bloomberg speech. He says that he removed the interjection, but not before it had been copied from the Irish Times website. The Irish Times denies that the initial report was hacked or that its website ever carried the quotes attributed to it on PoliticalWorld.org. The most likely source of the paragraph was a mash-up of the original news report of the Bloomberg speech. [Text amended on 28 May.]
‘The quotes were so surreal but utterly plausible,’ says Gavan Titley, a lecturer in media studies at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth. On Thursday, the Fine Gael minister for enterprise, Richard Bruton, during a debate on the treaty on Today FM, said that the referendum would be rerun in the event of a ‘No’ vote. He quickly retracted his ‘mistake’. Bruton’s comments ‘are regarded as a gaffe’, Titley says, ‘but actually are just an exceptional moment of clarity.’
One thing Noonan definitely did tell the Bloomberg summit is that ‘the Irish economy is in a much better position that it was this time last year.’ His optimism isn’t borne out by official statistics: In April 2011, the Irish government predicted an annual GNP growth rate to 2015 of 2.4 per cent. This year, that figure has been reduced to 1.4 per cent. In April 2011, it was estimated that 101,000 jobs would be created by 2015. The projection has now been reduced to 61,000. In 2011, public debt, supposedly the core focus of austerity policies, was expected to fall to 111 per cent of GDP by 2015. The figure has now been revised upwards to 117.4 per cent.
As recently as last month, Michael Noonan was saying that Ireland would not need a second EU/IMF bailout. The taoiseach, Enda Kenny, is now warning that only a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum on 31 May will guarantee Irish access to European bailout funds.