By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The Central Bank is looking for their billion back. About half of the coins minted by the Bank in recent years have vanished and the disappearance is causing a serious shortage for consumers.
The coin famine is worst for 1p and 2p pieces, but a Bank spokesman said there was also an increasing problem with 5p coins and so it is planning a campaign to try to attract hoarders to cash in their stockpiles.
"We issued over 230 million coins last year, a 35 percent increase on 1998, but still they are going missing," said Bank spokesman Neil Whoriskey.
"There are 2.4 billion coins in circulation — that is about 630 coins per head of population — but about half of them are not in active circulation.
"It is a problem we are currently examining and are likely to be campaigning on before long."
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No more Irish coins will be minted as the Bank is working overtime making euro coinage to go into circulation in January 2001.
The 5 million millennium £1 coins that went into circulation last week will be the last Irish coins to be minted here.
The Bank still has stocks of Irish coinage but, for security reasons, will give no details of amounts.
"We have to concentrate full-time on euro coin production," Whoriskey said. "We feel we have sufficient stock of Irish coins, but if demand increases, we will get extra ones minted abroad for us."
The Bank said tourists were pocketing some of the small change when they left. Studies show that each tourist takes about six coins with them when they depart.
But the major problem is hoarding. "People are tossing them into jars or corners of bottom drawers and so on," Whoriskey said. "They are just sitting there."
Whoriskey also said the Bank would be examining the possibility of some kind of incentive to get the hoards back into circulation but such schemes could cause problems.
When a commercial bank ran short of coinage a few years ago, it offered £11 to anyone who brought in £10 worth of coins all counted and bagged.
An entrepreneurial trade developed with people buying £10 worth of coins from other banks and reselling them to get the £1 profit from the coin-strapped bank.
"Needless to say, that scheme was abandoned fairly quickly," Whoriskey said. "Based on that experience, we would obviously want to be careful about how we structure any incentive.
"We are quite happy with people holding on to a set of coins for nostalgic purposes. I think anyone holding onto large quantities is highly unlikely to find they have any collector’s value for a long, long time.
"There is such a huge quantity out there that we know we are never going to get it all back in. Some of it is gone forever."