28 MARCH 1998, Page 20

Hold that Tiger

ANOTHER weird entry is the Punt, better known to its followers as the Celtic Tiger. This one has been fairly whizzing round, tuned up on a diet of Guinness and eggs, and now looks fit to burst. When I put this runner in my notebook, three months ago, I had heard from Morgan Stanley's men with the stop-watches that Ireland's economy would grow this year by 8 per cent. It can- not hope to sustain this pace without blow- ing up, or inflating, it needs a sharp tug on the reins by way of dearer money — but as a prizewinner it will be supposed to bring its interest rates into line with all the other prizewinners', however absurd or inappro- priate this may be. Of course, this Tiger is favourably weighted. Year by year it gets a cheque for £3 billion from Brussels. As it happens, every year we write a cheque for £3 billion to Brussels. The perfect solution would be to cancel both cheques, but a fat chance we have of that, under the rules of the Euro-caucus Race.