My favourite Churchill quotation is the one about the end of the beginning, as distinct from the beginning of the end. It is very clever - and, even more, it fits so many situations.
There it was, popping up again, when I read that 'credit default swaps' on Irish government debt had fallen to the levels which obtained before the 2010 bailout.
It is difficult to know what to make of these complicated thingummies. They are generally described as the cost of insuring against borrowers not repaying their loans. That is their ostensible purpose but, as with most things in the financial industry, there is more to it than meets the eye.
In the real world, people insure things which belong to them. In the financial world, they can insure things which belong to other people. They can then sell the insurance policy at a profit, if the risk is seen to have increased and premiums become more expensive.
They can get even further from the real world than that; promising to buy or sell the CDS policies at an agreed price at some future date, without owning them at all. This caper was a key ingredient of the global financial collapse. It turned out that, unlike the real world (Quinn UK possibly excepted), the insurers had not actually set remotely enough aside to pay out on the losses.
They are still running around with no clothes on, as Warren Buffett might put it. Negotiations on the 50% losses forced on Greek private lenders were complicated by the knowledge that, if the lenders were able to claim on their CDSs, the banking roof might fall in again.
A compromise was reached, but the problem has not been solved. It lurks in the background of the present Greek stand-off and gives Athens a much stronger hand than might be supposed, although it would take nerves of steel to play it.
So one is reluctant to set too much store by the apparently remarkable improvement in perceptions of Irish risk signalled by CDS costs. The trend will doubtless have been accelerated by traders selling them so as to avoid losses if their cost continues to fall.
At the same time, there has undoubtedly been an improvement. A better proof than swaps was last month's bond sale by the National Treasury Management Agency, where people actually lent the Irish Government money, rather than just trading existing loans on the basis of what they thought the future might bring.
It was, everyone agreed, quite a success, with most of the loans coming from foreign institutions. More is expected next month. But, the weary citizen is entitled to ask, what exactly has improved?
The bailout programme is on track, but no more than that, and the track is a long and winding one. A new paper from the Central Bank calculates that Ireland's budget correction will be twice as large as that required by Spain, Portugal and Cyprus (also now in bailout). Only Greece has to do more.
Even so, Ireland's deficit will remain larger than any of the others, including Greece, until 2015 at least. It is a chilling reminder of the extraordinary depth of the public finance crisis in the country. It is a necessary reminder too, since the public finances themselves feature remarkably little in the endless discussions of the country's plight.