Ireland Flag National Debt

Live Ireland National Debt Clock: Is Their Debt-to-GDP Ratio Misleading?


Source: Irish Government Data

Last Updated: June 15, 2024

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Interest Payments Per Year
Interest Payments Per Second
National Debt Per Citizen
Debt as % of GDP
GDP Of Ireland
Ireland Population

Ireland’s National Debt: What Is Included?

The national debt of Ireland refers to all of the debt owed by the national government under standard financial instruments.

Local government debt, unpaid invoices, pension obligations, and lease agreements are not counted as part of the debt.

In the case of Ireland, there is one other obligation, which would increase the record figure of Ireland’s national debt if it was recognized by standard accounting conventions in the governments account.

That is the guarantees that the Irish government issued to underwrite all deposits made to Irish banks.

Who Is In Charge Of The Irish National Debt?

The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) was founded by the Irish government to raise funds for the public purse through borrowing.

The agency’s remit has expanded since it was created to that of managing public assets and liabilities. This extends the agency’s responsibilities beyond the requirement to issue bonds on behalf of the government.

Dublin bridge
Image by Claire Tardy from Pixabay

What Is Ireland’s Debt To GDP Ratio?

Economists and lenders are more interested in the debt to GDP ratio of a country than the actual absolute amount.

For example, $1 billion of debt would be much easier for a country such as the United States to repay than it would for a country with a smaller economy, such as Tunisia.

ireland general government debt
Source: OECD (2019), General Government Debt, Data (accessed on 12/8/20)

The debt to GDP ratio admitted to by OECD stood at 68.8% at the end of 2019. Economists argue that this figure may be misleading and the country’s true debt to GDP ratio is probably more like 106%.

To learn about Ireland’s GDP stats, the most exported and imported commodities, and how the nation’s economic health fares, see our Economic Overview Of Ireland.

How Is Ireland’s Debt-To-GDP Ratio Calculated?

However, the traditional method of calculating GDP breaks down in Ireland.

This is because the country attracted a lot of foreign multinational companies to make their EU base in Ireland by offering tax exemptions.

As a result, many US companies run their entire EU revenue through their Irish offices even when the work that earned that money was actually performed in other countries.

How Are Irish GDP Figures Distorted?

An example of this distortion of GDP figures occurred in 2016 when the Central Statistics Office reported Ireland’s GDP had grown by 26.3% in 2015.

These figures were not believed and it was only in 2018 that the cause for the leap in GDP was revealed.

The above chart shows seasonally adjusted GDP growth from 2019 Q1 to 2020 Q1 as reported by the Irish CSO.

A Tax Haven For Major Corporations

Apple adjusted its accounting procedures to run all of its European sales through its Irish office, thus taking advantage of the tax advantages that it gets in that country.

So, one company accounted for a leap of GDP of more than 25% that generated no income for the government.

Thus, the debt to GDP ratio does not assist buyers of Irish government bonds in assessing the borrower’s ability to repay the debt.

What Debt Instruments Does The Irish Government Issue?

Like any government, the Irish Treasury needs to raise funds to finance long-term projects and also needs to bridge the time difference between spending and receipts.

So the government issues:

  • Bonds for long-term financing
  • Short-term instruments for cash flow management

The dividing line between long-term and short-term debt is 365 days (one year). All short-term instruments that the Irish government issues have a maximum life of 364 days.

Types Of Irish Government Bonds

The Irish government issues three types of bonds:

  1. Benchmark bonds — these have a fixed interest rate and terminate on the date stated on the bond. All benchmark bonds have a maturity date of more than one year.
  2. Floating rate bonds — these were all issued to the Central Bank of Ireland, which subsequently sold them on through brokers.
  3. Amortizing bonds — these are repaid in equal payments for the lifetime of the bond rather than all being paid off at the maturity date. These devices were created at the request of the pensions industry.

What Are Floating Rate Bonds In Ireland?

The NTMA has only ever made one issue of floating-rate bonds, which was on the 8 February 2013. This was an accounting measure to repay a promissory note held by the Central Bank of Ireland.

In November 2019, the NTMA canceled €500 million’s worth of Irish floating rate treasury bonds due to mature in 2051.

The central bank has the right to exchange these bonds for fixed-rate bonds, even those that it no longer holds — in which case, the current owners will receive fixed-rate bonds in exchange for their holdings.

Which Bonds Have Been Swapped?

The bonds were created in batches of different maturity dates. Of these, bonds with a maturity date of 2038, 2041, 2043, 2045, and 2047 have already been swapped.

Floating rate bonds with maturity dates of 2049, and 2053 are still in circulation.

In 2020, the NTMA borrowed €1.25bn to bridge the gap between government debt and raised taxes.

What Are Short Term Instruments In Ireland?

The NTMA issues three types of short-term loans:

  1. Treasury bills — these do not pay any interest, but they are sold at a discount with the face amount payable on maturity. Maturity dates range from one month to one year minus one day.
  2. Multi-currency euro commercial paper — despite the name, these instruments are not denominated in Euros, but in different foreign currencies. The NTMA has issued the equivalent of $50 billion in these instruments.
  3. Exchequer Notes — these are cash flow devices that have a range of maturity dates of up to one year.

Who Holds Irish Government Debt?

The largest holders of Irish government debt are overseas investors. See the table below for a complete list of investor categories.

Debt Holder TypePercentage ShareMarket Value 2019 (€m)
Credit institutions and central bank38.33%49,471
Non-bank financial2.67%3,443
General government & Non-financial institutions0.35%449
Overseas/Rest Of The World58.65%75,690
Total debt100%129,053

Other Facts About Irish National Debt

What facts should you know about Ireland’s national debt?

  • You could wrap $1 bills around the Earth 1,191 times with the debt amount.

  • If you lay $1 bills on top of each other they would make a pile 33,410 km, or 20,760 miles high.

  • That's equivalent to 0.09 trips to the Moon.

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Further Reading

To view more debt clocks and learn about other nations’ debt management practices, see our guides on:

To learn about the GDP health, most imported, and most exported commodities of countries, see our economic overviews like:

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