Top o’ de mornin’ to ya! Vaguely racist japery aside, the Irish are in trouble. This presents problems for national stereotyping. Normally we associate Ireland with the fun things in life- Guinness, Father Ted, Roman Catholicism- but it appears that their economy collapsed, endangering us all. In truth, this crisis has been brewing since at least 2007 when Ireland’s debt-fuelled boom fell apart. An intense recession followed which, basically, has forced the Irish Government to take out a 90bn Euro loan from the EU. There’s a direct effect on us: Britain will be contributing £7bn to the operation. That’s about the same amount as welfare benefit cuts, though the crucial difference is that we will get the money back. The poor old Irish meanwhile are going to have to make yet more scything cuts to their public sector in an attempt to bring their crushing budget deficit under some sort of control.
What the papers say
The Irish papers were understandably depressed. ‘Was it for this?’ asked the Irish TImes, highlighting the deaths of thousands of Irishmen in the struggle for independence in the 1920s. There is a sense of betrayal of their bravery. ‘Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.’ Not a problem for Britain. This is a corking opportunity to bash the EU, which the British press essentially exist to do. The Daily Telegraph excels itself by including both right-wing economics and euroscepticism in the same sentence: ‘Ireland must now choose between leaving the euro and deeper integration into a eurozone hostile to its low-tax experiments.’ The elephant in the room is indeed Ireland’s membership of the Euro which, according to some, had a hand in causing the present crisis.
One man who’ll be quaking in his Leprechaun-fashioned boots is Brian Cowen, the Irish Prime Minister. Think Gordon Brown but very fat, head of a coalition government, and with an even bigger economic crisis. He has already bowed to demands for an early election in January and is almost universally despised. So this crisis will throw him out and his centrist Finanna Fail government as well. Whether whoever takes over can clear up the problem is anybody’s guess. The crisis also has important international consequences. It threatens the stability of a Eurozone already strained by a similar economic collapse in Greece earlier this year. The Euro was meant to stabilise European economies and bring them together; instead, it has shown up its tendency to serve the larger economies better. But this isn’t a European problem so much as an Irish one: Ireland’s sovereignty is seriously threatened if it relies on the rest of Europe for economic stability.