Financial crisis widens gap between north and south

Wars , famine and internal government crises were meat and drink to my generation of journalists as we were growing up. Sure enough, we vaguely registered ” the gnomes of Zurich ” who had to be appeased moments before yet another devolution of sterling crashed over us. But the end of “Bretton Woods” and the birth of ” the snake” were all arcana from the pink pages we could safely leave to the better-dressed money people as we coped with the real life effects like strikes and inflation. Globalisation has changed all that.

In the poor Republic today, the average guy in Davy Byrne’s is now hanging on every digit of the – what is it called? – the bond rate?”- now tipping over 9% from yesterday’s 8.7%. Somebody says it’s Armageddon when it hits double digits. I watched slack jawed yesterday as some bloke on RTE news solemnly recommended a new property tax (rates to you and me, which Jack Lynch abolished in an election bribe in the late 70s.). Just the ticket to cheer them all up as fears rise of a wave of mortgage defaults.

One parochial thought occurs. In Ireland, the gap between the southern and northern experience has never been wider since the partition, or maybe even the Plantation. This is neither misplaced complacency over the ripple effects north of the border nor a coded piece of unionist glee, just an unintended outcome of what Dublin did with its brief moment of economic sovereignty by joining a currency without the underpinning of a common tax and spend policy. We hear that a mysterious Hungarian (not a German apparently) is now stationed in Dublin as the EU’s latter day lord lieutenant.

In  the midst of this crisis,  the UK, British banks and the North barely rate a mention. But be thankful for small mercies.  Just imagine the political fallout if this had been a sterling crisis in the old days up to the 1980s and an officer of the Bank of England had been stationed in the Irish Central Bank.

 But this could be old school, northern stuff. In the eye of the storm down there, postcolonial thoughts like these barely enter their heads any more. And anyway, in those days Dublin wasn’t even consulted. Today the pain and suffering are sovereign.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London