Ireland's leader seeing the green
Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern
TEXT OF STORY
Scott Jagow: The prime minister of Ireland, Bertie Ahern, just got a raise. A big one. He's now paid better than almost any other political leader in the world. And this is at a time when the Irish economy is heading straight toward recession.
As you can imagine, the Irish people are a little miffed. From Dublin, Stephen Beard reports.
Stephen Beard: On the streets of Dublin, it's a familiar topic of conversation -- and complaint: Bertie's 14 percent pay raise.
First Man On The Street: A pay rise of 38,000! That should be salary. That would even be too much for him.
Woman On The Street: I think Bertie's all right, but it is a lot of money.
Second Man On The Street: He's as crooked as the rest of them.
Beard: Are you suggesting he's not worth his $460,000 a year?
Second Man On The Street: Absolutely not.
It's not just that Bertie, who's running a country of just 4 million people, now earns more than the president of the U.S. It's the timing of his pay hike that's awkward, says Paddy Prendeville of The Pheonix magazine.
Paddy Prendeville: The minute the pay rise was granted, he then within a fortnight demanded wage restraint from the general population.
And says Prendeville, Bertie's finance chief had just forecast a sharp slowdown in the economy.
Prendeville: Bertie has just won a general election on the basis of his handling of the economy more than anything else. Once the economy goes into serious downturn -- if it does -- Bertie's behaviour will come under much more serious scrutiny by the public.
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Promoted as a global business center, Ireland has enjoyed more than 15 years of unbroken growth. Scores of major American corporations have set up their European headquarters here.
Economist David McWilliams:
David McWilliams: Without the Americans, we'd be nothing. They are both our spiritual and genetic cousins, in many cases. But economically, they are the godfathers of what has happened here.
But there's been a downside. Ireland picked up America's bad habit of borrowing.
McWilliams: And we spent and we spent and we spent, and we went mad. And we've never done that in the past, and now we're paying for it.
Ireland's real-estate boom is turning to bust. Construction, which accounts for a huge slice of the economy, could shrink by two-thirds next year, says Morgan Kelly of University College.
Morgan Kelly: If we're going to lose about 10 percent of our national income quite quickly, I don't see how we can do that without some quite severe recession here.
He says it'll be a miracle if Ireland escapes a recession. If Bertie can stave it off, maybe he'll deserve every penny of his pay raise.
In Dublin, this is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.