, while viewing an exhibit on the Easter 1916 Rising in the Irish National Museum in Dublin, I got into a conversation with two young museum guards. They said that they and other Irish didn’t care about things like the Easter Rising and Irish independence any more. They wanted to be part of Europe. I told them in the strongest terms that if they gave up their nationhood in order to join Europe, that would be the worst mistake they could make.
Beggared by euro
By ANDREW ROBERTS
The “Celtic Tiger” has caught mange and is scratching it self raw.
Ever since the Irish joined the euro, on Jan. 1, 1999, they’ve acted as though their economy really was a Western European version of the Asian Tigers’ economies of the Far East, so the present humiliation has hurt them all the more. “Is this what the men of 1916 died for?” asked an Irish Times editorial last week, denouncing the “shameful” humiliation of the proposed 82 billion euro ($112 billion) bailout.
The men of the Easter Rising of 1916 died for Irish independence, of course—which is precisely what Ireland gave up when it entered the Eurozone in the first place.
The arrival of International Monetary Fund and European Union experts in Dublin last week, going through the Irish treasury’s accounts and setting out the depth of Ireland’s pain on their spreadsheets, is merely the starkest manifestation of that.
Ireland is not facing its present degrading catastrophe because of its better-late-than-never austerity measures. Rather, since joining the euro, it has concentrated on one sector to the exclusion of all others, despite repeated warnings. It now turns out that the construction boom was, as the Irish writer Jenny McCartney puts it, “greased by bribes by property developers to government officials.”
Irish banks furthered the madness by lending at insane levels—and when things began to turn south, the Dublin government foolishly guaranteed everything on its own account. The result is an IMF takeover of Ireland, which is offering a bailout of no less than 80 percent of Irish GDP.
The men of 1916 died for independence from Britain, and it was partly to escape being effectively tied to the pound sterling that the Irish embraced the euro so enthusiastically when it was launched. They saw it as a fine way of twisting the British lion’s tail—and Britons visiting Dublin had to put up with a decade of being told of the advantages of Eurozone membership that Britain was missing out on because of a nationalistic affection for an outmoded currency.
Today, Britain is also taking very serious austerity measures—cutting 19 percent of public spending—but it is in areas and at a time of its own choosing. Nationalism turns out to have its advantages.
Where retention of its currency means that Britain can choose interest-rate levels and economic policies that suit her, the shift to the euro means that Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain (known in the markets by the unlovely acronym “PIGS”) must put up with rates that suit the Germans, French and Benelux economies.
Yet they all knew about this loss of independence before they joined. To whine about it afterward, as the Irish are now doing, is rather like complaining of the loss of one’s virginity after enthusiastically taking part in an orgy. If some Britons feel a sense of schadenfreude about the tribulations of the Irish economy today—as opposed to toward the ever-charming Irish people themselves—who can blame them?
A sinister undertow is already developing in Ireland as a result of these economic earthquakes. Gerry Adams has resigned his seat in Ulster in order to stand for the Irish parliament, hoping to capitalize upon the unrest. Although the ruling Fianna Fail party clearly deserves to lose the coming West Louth by-election on Thursday, what if an anti-IMF candidate wins it? Whatever else the men of 1916 died for, it certainly wasn’t Irish bankruptcy—which is now the only alternative to IMF ownership of the Emerald Isle for the next few years.
Ireland didn’t do too badly out of her connection with Britain, at least after the brutality of the 12th and 17th centuries. As an integral part of Britain between 1800 and 1922, it received the benefits of the Enlightenment, access to the global economy, the extended franchise, massive infrastructure spending, the architecture of Georgian Dublin and protection from Napoleon and the kaiser.
Leaving the euro and returning to parity with the pound sterling would obviously be too much for Irish nationalists to stomach—but their present travails do bring to mind the Hilaire Belloc line: “Always keep ahold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse.”
Andrew Roberts is a British his torian working in New York.