Not long ago, there was a popular joke. What’s the difference between Ireland and Iceland? One letter and six months.
Whether the joke was ever funny is debatable but it certainly isn’t now. The causes of the two countries’ economic woes were remarkably similar. Both had deregulated their financial services and let the banks run amok. In Ireland, major banks were able to loan up to three times the national income. Iceland’s banking industry acquired assets worth 10 times the country’s gross domestic product.
Yet the way Reykjavik and Dublin have dealt with their crises differed radically. Iceland allowed its banks collapse and default on their loans. Its former prime minister and some titans of finance are now on trial. Ireland’s government, on the other hand, decided to guarantee the bank’s deposits with the money of its taxpayers. Nobody has been held to account for the reckless behaviour of the super-rich.
Iceland is now faring better than Ireland. This is due in no small part to how Iceland is not part of the European Union and still retains its own currency. Ireland does whatever its slavemasters in Brussels and Frankfurt tell it to do.
Fortunately, one thing the Irish haven’t lost is their sense of humour. The funniest thing I have seen lately was on a website about the EU’s fiscal treaty set up by the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC). As part of its campaign for a Yes vote in the imminent referendum (31 May), IBEC is underscoring how “Ireland keeps Europe ticking”. This boast is based on how the country “exports more than 1 million heart stents per year”.
I wonder did some “public relations” consultant come up with that gauche metaphor. If so, IBEC should probably withdraw the juicy fee promised to that consultant and instead give him or her a grant to become a stand-up comedian. The Celtic Tiger has now become the Celtic Ticker.
Coward of the county
Enda Kenny, the Irish prime minister, was elected last year on a promise that his party, the centre-right Fine Gael, would “burn the bondholders”. The promise that he would valiantly take on French and German bankers who had supplied too much credit to the Irish banking system in the boom years has not materialised. “We will not have ‘defaulter’ written on our foreheads,” Kenny has said.
There are more appropriate words that should be branded on his brow. How about “coward” or “cheat”? Not only has he broken the pledge he made to voters, he has so far refused to take part in a live TV debate with opponents of the fiscal treaty. The only plausible explanation for his refusal is that he is too scared to do so.
It is customary for the Irish elite to avoid serious debate on crucial issues. The country signed up to the euro – thereby sacrificing control over its monetary policy – without any proper discussion about the wisdom of this move.
The referendum in a few days’ time says nothing about an Irish commitment to democracy. The Irish Times has documented how the Dublin government connived with its EU slavemasters to find a formula that would not necessitate putting the fiscal treaty to a vote. Máire Whelan, Ireland’s attorney general, eventually recommended that a referendum should take place. Her advice has not been published but it is blindingly obvious that it was motivated primarily by political expediency. She knew well that the “No” side was waiting to challenge the treaty in court if it was put on the statute books without a referendum. She knew that – unlike her political masters – not all Irish people are willing to be slaves.
Labour: now Thatcherite
I fervently hope that my compatriots will reject this pernicious treaty. Yet I am not under any illusions about the effect of a “No” vote. A Dublin uppercut won’t deliver a knock-out blow to the EU’s austerity agenda. It will, however, discomfit the establishment and underscore that the dangerous economic experiment being undertaken across the Union is reviled by large sections of public opinion.
Activists in Greece have been known to hold placards saying “we are not Ireland; we resist”. The activists had a point: for the most part, my compatriots have proven too pliable. When Irish politicians have recited the Thatcherite mantra “there is no alternative”, the public has generally rolled over. There have been some protests in Dublin but they have been pathetic when compared to the mass demonstrations in Athens and Madrid.
One hundred years ago this month, the Irish trade union movement decided to establish the Labour Party following a proposal by James Connolly. In a speech to mark this anniversary, former Labour leader Dick Spring has recalled that 345,000 had emigrated from Ireland in the decade before that decision.
Labour is the junior party in the Irish ruling coalition today and has betrayed the socialist principles to which Connolly dedicated his life. Once again, Irish people are quitting the country in droves.
Less than four years after the decision to found Labour, Connolly played a leading role in a revolution against British rule. He was captured and executed by forces loyal to the crown.
I don’t believe that Connolly’s rebellious spirit will ever be rekindled by Labour. But the spirit remains vibrant among many community activists in Ireland’s towns and cities. By saying no to the EU’s diktats, the Irish can show that we’ve stopped rolling over. And started to resist.
●First published by New Europe, 27 May – 2 June 2012.