Irish national debt in the 1980s – the figures and the facts

I keep having to do this so much on various sites that I’ve decided to have it on my blog to make it easier for me to find and reference. The figures I’ve used below come from the NationalTreasuryManagementAgency and the Irish government’s own sites.

These are the figures in euros for Ireland’s national debt

At the end of 1977 -National debt was €5,370
At the end of 1981 – National debt was €12,945 that is more than 240% of the 1977 figure.

That would be while we were governed by the oh-so fiscally responsible folk in FF we’re governed by right now.

And in all honesty the beginning of year 1983 was the first one that the FG/Lab coalition had actual power and a chance to decide what to do. From June 1981 to Feb 1982 they had barely time to look at the books (and had to introduce a supplementary budget because of how reckless Haughey had been.). And the figures have to be viewed in comparison to the rate of inflation which in turn affected the interest rates

1982 – 14,816 which is a 14.45% increase on previous year

1983 – 18,274 which is a 23.33% increase on previous year

1984 – 21,358 which is a 16.87% increase on previous year

1985 – 23,492 which is a 9.99% increase on previous year

1986 – 27,440 which is a 16.8% increase on previous year

1987 – 30,085 which is a 9.63% increase on previous year

So, that is just over a 100% rise in 5 years. The numbers come from the government’s budget figures used in 2002.

So when some people love to harp on about how the national debt doubled from 1983 to 1987 they are ignoring the fact that the FG/Lab government started off with an inherited deficit, in a sense taking over a control of an accelerating debt level. The deficit (or overspend) was of the order of nearly 10% from FF going from one year to another which they had to reduce. So the level of national debt would have risen by 70/80% even with no further borrowing had taken place simply due to the very high interest rates at the time, and that the debt meant recession and a lack of investment and further jobs losses which in turn meant fewer people in employment to pay taxes and more people out of work and drawing benefit so spending was going up.

It is also a factor that from 87 to 91 emigration from Ireland peaked which reduced the current expenditure demand on the FF government in terms of social welfare. Anyone remember Brian Lenihan telling us “after all, we can’t all live on a small island‘ in an interview to Newsweek in October 1987? Of course not.

And lastly, people defending FF and attacking FG for what happened in the 1980s economically choose to forget that the spending Haughey committed the state to involved repeating current expenditure like hiring civil servants just to get the dole queues down. The incoming government simply wasn’t in a position politically to sack them.

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5 Responses to Irish national debt in the 1980s – the figures and the facts

  1. Simon says:

    interesting numbers

  2. Dan Sullivan says:

    I had to write this here to have it to hand when people start on about the coalition doubling the national debt.
    I’m the first to admit that if the government had taken a different tack that things might have been different, but it needs to be recognised the situation that existed.
    Interesting economic counterfactual would be if enough members of FF had left to join the PDs such FG could have ditched Labour and had an alternate government.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Debt can be an absolute nightmare when it starts to spiral Out of control. It best to get some debt consolidation advice if it starts to affect your health through the stress of it all. Then when your finally out of debt try and make sure it does’nt happen again!

  4. Paul says:

    lets compare like figures with like to be a bit fair.

    5370 * 241% = 12942
    12945 * 232% = 30032

    Not that different after all.
    Although I do agree it is much harder to manage a mountain of debt than it is to not create one.

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