Speech at the launch of the NTMA Annual Report 2018

1st July, 2019

Thank you, Martin, Conor and colleagues and good morning everyone.

I am very pleased to be here today to help launch the NTMA’s Annual Report for 2018.


Turning to the key highlights, 2018 saw the NTMA continue to successfully implement its funding strategy, leading to the issuance of €17.6 billion of Irish sovereign bonds.

Historically, part of this issuance was Ireland’s first Sovereign Green Bond issued in October.

The Green Bond raised just under €3 billion of proceeds for allocation to eligible green categories of expenditure.

This event not only allowed the NTMA to tap into a new and more diverse investor base, but also linked Ireland’s debt management strategy with our climate action ambitions.

I am delighted to say that just last week the Irish Sovereign Green Bond Working Group approved and published, through the NTMA, its first annual Allocation Report.

The Report shows how 65.3 per cent of the total proceeds raised from the issuance had been allocated to eligible green projects by end-2018 with the remainder to be allocated in 2019.

Although 2018 saw an increase of €6.6bn in the Gross National Debt to €205.3bn, it cannot be ignored that our debt interest costs continued to decrease.

2018 saw an almost 5 per cent decrease in the interest cost versus 2017 which was almost 20% below the peak of such costs in 2014.

Such savings free up resources towards Government priorities such as health, housing and improved public services.

The NTMA’s constant drive towards improving the profile and composition of the State’s debt reflects favourable market conditions but also strong investor demand, resulting in our achieving longer maturities at lower interest rates. 

In this respect the weighted average maturity of Ireland’s long-term marketable and official debt was estimated at 10.5 years at end-2018, which is one of the longest maturities in Europe.


The Annual Report evidences the extent of the NTMA’s activities beyond its core debt management role.

These include the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund (ISIF), the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA), NewERA and the State Claims Agency (SCA).

In 2018 ISIF committed €773m to 21 investments designed to support economic activity and employment in Ireland.

By end 2018 ISIF had utilised its €4.1bn commitment to leverage co-investment from private sector partners which brought the total commitment to €11.6bn.

Following the launch of its refocussed investment strategy, ISIF 2.0, earlier this year, I have high hopes for ISIF’s continued success in 2019 and beyond.

Meanwhile, in its role as the NDFA, the NTMA was involved in a range of education, health, justice and housing Public-Private Partnership projects with an estimated total capital value of €1.7bn.

For example, 1,500 new social homes are to be delivered across three PPP bundles. The first of these bundles, which accounts for 534 homes, has already begun construction.

In 2018, NewERA provided financial analysis on 132 Portfolio company assignments and provided valuable commercial advice to shareholding Ministers, including myself.

This increase of 51 assignments on 2017, implies that NewERA’s role is growing.

With 146 State authorities delegated to it for claims management purposes at end-2018, the SCA was managing over 10,658 active claims, with an estimated outstanding liability of €3.15bn.

Over the year, it achieved a 41 per cent saving on costs claimed from third parties, more than proving its value to the State.


During 2018, I delegated certain aspects of my functions in relation to the Apple Escrow Fund established in relation to the Apple State Aid case to the NTMA.

By end-2018, over €14bn was transferred to the Fund and invested through the investment managers appointed by the NTMA on my behalf.

I want to thank the NTMA for its valuable contribution to the State’s management of this almost uniquely challenging issue.


As we look to the future, we must be cognisant of the elevated risks from external actors, for instance, the seemingly synchronised slowdown in global growth, the looming prospect of Brexit, increasing protectionism and changes to the international tax landscape.

The principal domestic risk relates to potential overheating as the economy zeroes in on full-employment.

This is why from a policy perspective, I recognise the need for continued vigilance to ensure tax and revenue remains on a sustainable footing and that pro-cyclical budgetary decisions are avoided.

The Irish Government remains committed to ensuring that our economy is as resilient in bad times as it is dynamic in good times.

As such, we continually endeavour to optimise how we run our economy, set policy, and deliver public services.

To this end, on June 19th, the Bill to establish the Rainy Day Fund completed its passage through the Oireachtas.

The Rainy Day Fund is intended to be used as a defined-purpose instrument to address severe, unanticipated events, as opposed to the normal fluctuations within the economic cycle.

I will be co-ordinating with the NTMA regarding delegation of investment functions for the Fund and the necessary guidelines, but you will no doubt hear more on this in the future.


In spite of the challenges we face, it is useful to remember the positives in this new future facing us.

As Minister for Finance, I am happy to say that Ireland’s overall economy is in good shape.

In fact, modified domestic demand, an underlying measure of growth in the economy, grew by 4.5 per cent for 2018 as a whole.

This trend is expected to continue both this year and next.

Arguably, the labour market provides the clearest evidence of the recovery in the economy over the past 10 years.

By way of example, on average, a net 1,600 jobs were added to the work force per week between January and March of 2019.

Employment growth in recent years is much more balanced, with annual growth recorded in 12 of the 14 sectors and all of the 8 regions reported by the Central Statistics Office in Q1 2019.

Continued employment growth has helped reduce the unemployment rate from a peak 16 per cent peak in early-2012 to an estimated 4.4 per cent in May 2019.

These rates and the recent signs of an increase in earnings are consistent with an economy that is running close to full employment.

Importantly, despite the robust economic growth in recent years, for 2018 as a whole, Ireland’s inflation averaged just 0.7 per cent.

This was low compared to an average EU inflation rate of 1.9 per cent. However, low inflation should help Ireland to maintain our competitiveness and protect real wage growth.

Especially in light of the uncertain times ahead, I intend to maintain prudent budgetary policy, ensure that policies are oriented toward increased competitiveness and carefully manage the public finances.


In conclusion, standing here today, I am mindful of the scope of the NTMA’s remit, from the professional management of the National Debt to leveraging investment in our regions.

The NTMA have played a vital role in not only Ireland’s recovery from the financial crisis but also in building our resilience to withstand future shocks.

On this basis I would like to thank Conor and his entire team for the exceptional work they do and wish them well as they continue that good work and continue to build on the strong reputation of the Agency.

Thank you all for your attention.