Ireland has missed a glorious chance on Greece

As the Greek tragedy rumbles on France has said it will keep up efforts to reach a deal. France has also maintained that the biggest critics of Greece are the other smaller countries. This brings Ireland into the spotlight. Has the government really been politically clever in how it has handled the Greek crisis?

Ireland has a strong reputation in Europe. At several junctures in the history of the EU it is Ireland that has helped to bring people around the table and do deals. Bertie Ahern even made something of a reputation for himself out of it. The fact is that Ireland always held a unique position. Larger countries always saw us as something of an EU success story and were willing to trust us. At the same time we are a smaller country and know and understand the problems such nations have in dealing with the EU.

In the current crisis Ireland was perfectly positioned. We have come through an EU/IMF bailout programme. We did all that was asked of us. Germany and the ECB know that Ireland is not chancing their arm. On the other hand we know the issues with unsustainable debt. We know the problems austerity brings. We have sought solutions for historical debt and been rebuffed. We have on numerous occasions pointed out where the EU and ECB could have been fairer to Ireland.

If a deal was reached with Greece not only could it solve the current crisis but it could also help nations like Ireland. The Irish Government knows that Greece cannot possibly get all it wants but there are some key elements that Ireland would not mind having on the table either. The opportunity was there to be taken. Ireland could and should have been the honest broker. The deal maker. Enda Kenny should have been the man sitting down with both sides working through proposals, visiting other European Leaders, especially in small countries and building support for a deal. This was a moment of leadership that Ireland should have grasped with both hands.

If it failed nobody would blame Ireland for trying. If it succeeded then the government would be hailed as dealmakers. It would have played well with voters at home who would see the government as trying to help rather than just tagging along. In one instant Enda Kenny would have defined himself as a leader and a negotiator.

Germany does not need small countries throwing out platitudes of support. It does nothing for them. Germany needs valuable friends. Friends that can be of use and actually do something. Greece cannot be lectured by Germany; they needed someone who could see a bigger picture beyond the immediate loan repayment. All it required was for the Irish government to be a little less eager to jump. For once they should have played cards close to their chest and spoke evenly and fairly about the needs of both sides. They didn’t have to criticise or make demands of anyone just keep it balanced. Keep out of the media lectures and for once do your talking inside the room rather than over the airwaves. Instead they chose to follow the central line and tell Greece what it had to do. In that moment the chance of having an honest broker respected by both sides was gone.

Maybe the days of Ireland’s influence are over in the EU. Maybe we just don’t have anyone with the courage to seize upon a risk and create an opportunity. Maybe we just want to keep our heads down and follow. Whatever the case, a chance to really do something valuable for both sides in the Greek debate was lost.

Southern Editor

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  • Kevin Breslin

    We’re talking about the IMF though, even war torn Ukraine has been paying its IMF debts on time. Romania has, Ireland has, Portugal has, Iceland has.

    This might not simply cause a Eurozone crisis, this could start another Global credit crisis.

  • Ian James Parsley

    Well said that man.

    Not sure what this article is about. The EU offer (which Ireland will be part of as a Eurozone member) is perfectly reasonable. Greece gets loans at unbelievably low interest rates; it gets an unbelievably long time to repay them; and it doesn’t even have to pay half the private ones.

    It’s not an honest broker that’s required. It’s an honest government in Athens.

  • Utter nonsense.

  • “It’s not an honest broker that’s required. It’s an honest government in Athens.”
    What he said.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    How would the Irish electorate react to the Irish government supporting a set of terms and conditions for Greece considerably more lax than those Ireland endured ?

    Why should a country that operates a lax tax regime and an over-generous public sector be bailed out without having to cut its own cloth ?

  • kensei

    Brilliant contribution, there.

  • kensei

    “Utter nonsense”. Greek debt is unsustainable under current plans:

    It doesn’t matter how low the interest rates and how long the repayment if it doesn’t lead to a sustainable growing economy. Also Greece might have been an irresponsible borrower, but Northern European banks were irresponsible lenders, and the original bailout was as much about helping them. Or are we in some new definition of Capitalism where lending carries no risk or responsibility?

    And let’s see what the “reasonable offer” has produced to date:

    25% Unemployment
    50% (!) Youth Unemployment
    20% Reduction in the Minimum wage:

    There is a human cost which the greek Government has to reflect.

    As for the article, it’s pretty clear. Is it better for Ireland to be in a world where Northern European countries are punitive to smaller countries in debt, or are more forgiving, do you think?

  • Old Mortality

    25% Unemployment
    50% (!) Youth Unemployment
    20% Reduction in the Minimum wage:

    That’s what happens when your have to adjust your cost structure within a currency union and you refuse to remove rigidities which discourage flexibility.

  • kensei

    Just the first bit. Downward nominal wage rigidity is a fact, amply demonstrated by the current crisis almost everywhere.

    Even with that, see the 20% reduction in minimum wage.

    Aggregate demand is also still a thing, like. You can’t suck that amount of money out of an economy without chaos.

  • Gingray

    Lol, I think he copied and pasted it from somewhere?

  • sk

    Focus Peter

    (sauce for the goose, eh!- Ed)

  • Kevin Breslin

    There has to be some cost benefit analysis from the Hellenic Republic and they need to have the surgical hand on this matter. There is a lot of benefit to the proposals but the costs are privatizations, public sector cuts and higher taxes that is driving people onto the streets.

  • Reader

    Ian James Parsley: Not sure what this article is about.
    I think the author misses the days when the Celtic Tiger was the golden child of the EU, and Bertie Ahern bestrode the European stage like a colossus. The South shall rise again. Something like that.

  • murdockp

    Are you talking about Northern Ireland here or Greece?

  • Catcher in the Rye

    As for the article, it’s pretty clear. Is it better for Ireland to be in a world where Northern European countries are punitive to smaller countries in debt, or are more forgiving, do you think?

    what’s the alternative – a world where countries lend you huge amounts of money for you to squander and then don’t ask for it to be paid back ?

  • eireanne
  • puffen

    A first world country has reneged on its debt to the the IMF, this is a first, whatever the rights and wrongs, this will have an effect going on to the future,I cannot understand why the bond markets are so sanguine about this, maybe the Central Banks are intervening, maybe the traders have had their cocaine doctored,,but at some stage Mr Market will have his say, Buy Gold|

  • Kevin Breslin

    I wasn’t aware second or third world countries reneging on IMF debts. We know central banks have been intervening, and Greek bonds are probably only improving from a low of near complete junk status.

  • puffen