Friday 20 September 2019

Noonan strikes a dogmatic chord but Greeks dance to a different tune

So just why was Finance Minister Michael Noonan so aggrieved at the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' decision to hold a referendum on further austerity measures this week?

Was it because we will foot the bill if Europe comes to the Mediterranean country's aid or was he simply frustrated at the fact that Ireland did not have the backbone to give two fingers to our European masters back in 2008?

Of course such questions oversimplify the issue, after all it wasn't Mr Noonan's call back in those dark days but the Irish finance minister's emergence as one of German counterpart Wolfgang Schauble's fiercest allies ahead of a possible 'Grexit' has left many Irish citizens feeling uncomfortable.

That's because, if we had to do it all over again, many Irish people would simply say no to austerity. And that's despite the fact that today there are chinks of light at the end of what has been a very dark tunnel for Ireland.

Indeed, many Irish citizens will admire Mr Tsipras' stance. While Greece is expected to default on a €1.6bn debt to the IMF this week, the reality is that the Mediterranean state has no chance of ever fully repaying its €338bn debt.

Mr Tsipras' Syriza Party will campaign for a no vote on further austerity measures and if his country exits the Eurozone and spirals into economic crisis as a result, he will be able to say that he didn't act alone.

Last week Mr Noonan stood side by side with Mr Schauble in calling for restrictions on emergency liquidity for the Greek banks unless capital controls were imposed and he duly got a rap in the knuckles from the ECB who said that monetary policy was off limits. Back home the government said his words had been misrepresented. There is no doubting that Mr Noonan is a skilled Euro-economist but does he realise that despite the current crisis, there general sense of relief in Greece that the situation is finally coming to a head and Mr Tsipras' popularity ratings remain high?

Years of austerity have taken their toll in Greece and so it should come as no surprise to Mr Noonan that a referendum was called.

Whether that referendum is entirely legal is besides the point - Greece's constitution states that referenda are not to be used to decide fiscal matters.

With Greece closing its banks this week to prevent savers from attempting mass withdrawals - and ATMs running out of cash - there is a real fear of Contagion and it's such fear that the Greek government is hoping will eventually result in a debt writedown.

If it happens as many predict, the previous Irish administration will have a lot to answer for concerning the decisions made in 2008, as will the current government and it's perceived deference when the Troika when it rolled into town.

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Enda Kenny has called on Greece to follow the Irish model of growth friendly measures. What has been overlooked is the cost to Irish society thanks to measures such as water and property taxes as well as mass emigration.

Wexford People

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