In reading Andrew Roberts entertaining account of the crisis in Ireland, (New York Post Nov. 22 Beggared By The Euro) I found myself drifting from the focus of Roberts’ article, the idea of Ireland abandoning the Euro and ‘returning to parity’ with the pound sterling, my focus instead was on his use of language. There was an indisputable joy in his choice of words to describe the current Irish situation.
“The ‘Celtic Tiger’ has caught mange and is scratching itself raw.”
“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.”
“Ireland didn’t do too badly out of her connection with Britain. As an integral part of Britain between 1800 and 1922 it received the benefits of the Enlightenment.”
I will scratch at the “Celtic Tiger” comment first. Ireland’s experience of wealth and prosperity during the economic boom was long awaited for and well deserved. We opened our doors to many nations and shared the prosperity, and in so doing were praised for it. The issue in Ireland became one of too much too soon. Like the current housing economy in Florida, the Irish were sold an idea that they could have it all, only bigger and better. Having gone without for decades and centuries, the prospect of having it all was enticing. The Irish are not alone in this line of thinking. Global economies such as Florida and Dubai fell under the same spell. So the real issue is; who cast the spell? Construction companies, banks and political leaders who looked the other way. I laughed at the Celtic Tiger comment when I read it the first time.
Now I will whine about the Irish loss of financial virginity. Though I struggle to see the connection between the current IMF bailout in Ireland and the men of the 1916 rising, and, like Roberts, agree that Ireland gave up a certain amount of its independence in joining the Euro on Jan. 1 1999; it is important to keep in mind that not every Irish person was part of the orgy. That is to say, not every body in Ireland benefited from the economic boom. Being an ex-pat living in America I could see many changes when I returned to Ireland. Those changes were predominantly among those who already had money prior to the boom. People like my mother, a widow living alone, were struggling to meet the higher cost of living in Ireland when the Euro became national currency. Retailers rounded prices up, but salaries remained at the same level.
Not everyone enjoyed the orgy, because not everyone was invited. Yet, like the situation in Britain and Greece and Spain and Portugal, even those who did not benefit from the boom will be punished by the austerity measures.
Finally, “Ireland didn’t do too badly out of her connection with Britain. As an integral part of Britain between 1800 and 1922 it received the benefits of the Enlightenment.”
The Irish have a lot to be thankful for; We managed to rescue our culture and heritage despite the 1801 Act of Union and the brutality of the Penal Laws which forbade the Irish to speak Irish, be educated, practice Catholicism, be taxed for refurbishing their homes and made lawful the inheritance of homes to those who abandoned Catholicism and embraced Protestantism. Let us not forget the exportation of grain from the country during the years of the famine and Cromwell’s plantations.
To contradict Roberts’ assertion that the Irish could not stomach the prospect of abandoning the Euro in favor of returning to parity with the pound sterling, I will add that I have often wondered what would have happened if Ireland had remained part of the British Commonwealth. Canada, India and others seem to have benefited from their participation. Yet, if I might be granted the same backward glancing genius that the New York Post has permitted Roberts; I think it is not without difficulty that we should understand Ireland’s hesitancy to join the Commonwealth. We accepted the hand that fed us, so to speak.
If Ireland’s greatest mistake was wanting prosperity, then it may join the ranks of many other nations, England included. To deride a nation for wanting more is to ridicule your own countrymen Mister Roberts. I wouldn’t dare scorn the English people for the current situation in Britain, for it is not the English people who caused the recession, but banks and greed. Upon seeing students rioting in the streets of London I mused that it was only a matter of time before the Irish did the same. Compassion it would seem is part of “the ever-charming” Irish.
We are all in this together. To deliberately use language to mock the current crisis in Ireland and use incorrect historical statements to support your argument is damaging in the least and divisive at the worst. At a time when populations should be united in a quest to discover what went wrong and develop strategies to prevent it from ever happening again Roberts’ article encourages a Victorian view point of division.
To the people of England and Ireland I would strongly urge continued peaceful relations. We have more in common than we have that differentiates. I will thank Roberts’ for his remark that the Irish are ‘ever-charming,’ when it is genuine and less condescending than it appears in the context of his recent article. The real criminals in this scenario were spotted by William Butler Yeats almost a century ago;
What need you, being come to sense,
But fumble in a greasy till
And add the halfpence to the pence
And prayer to shivering prayer, until
You have dried the marrow from the bone;
For men were born to pray and save;
Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,It’s with O’Leary in the grave.
NEW YORK POST ARTICLE THAT STARTED IT ALL;
By ANDREW ROBERTS
Last Updated: 4:31 AM, November 22, 2010
Posted: 10:33 PM, November 21, 2010
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.