Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Foreign Affairs

The Woe of the Irish

A few months ago I sought refuge in a small pub in downtown Dublin to escape a passing rain storm. As the bartender got my drink for me, I glanced at a newspaper that had been left on the bar and saw an interesting headline. Let's Quit EU and join US. My curiosity piqued, I started reading the former chief executive of the Bank of Ireland's not-quite-tongue-in-cheek argument for how American states have more sovereignty from Washington than EU members have from Brussels. Less than one month later, the Irish economy collapsed as a resulted of a combination of government and corporate greed, overpriced real estate, rampant loans, and exuberant government expenditures leading to Ireland's national debt being 125% of its GDP-- and the financial liabilities of Irish banks settling around 309% of its GDP.

Ireland is one of the seventeen European Union members to have adopted the Euro as its official currency. One of the driving ideas behind the Euro was to subject many of these other nations to German-style fiscal discipline. However, all it really did was allow these nations access to Euro-loans backed by strong German banks, and so they just borrowed and borrowed and borrowed. When the global economic crisis hit, there was a massive default in loans. Claiming that it would be irresponsible to allow the Irish collapse to bring down the rest of the Eurozone, the European Commission pressured the Irish government to accept a bailout-- that is, the Irish did not want to accept a bailout but caved to the pressure for one. The Irish public immediately condemned the government for selling out Ireland's sovereignty-- sovereignty that the small republic has only enjoyed for less than a century after almost a millennium of subjugation.

Now Prime Minister Brian Cowen's Fianna Fáil party, which has ruled Ireland for 53 of its 84 years of existence (and almost continuously since 1987), is facing being thrown out of power. The Green Party, which formed a coalition government with Fianna Fáil, is demanding elections-- and Cowen only narrowly survived a recent vote of confidence within his own party. He has been forced to set a new round of general elections for March. Today, in an unprecedented move, Cowen resigned leadership of his party while maintaining leadership of the government, causing leaders of the rival Fine Gael party to call for a vote of no confidence next week in the Irish Parliament unless he resigns his position as prime minister.

The Irish are a proud people who are fiercely protective of their liberty and sovereignty, and now that they have prostrated themselves before stringent EU economic regulations in exchange for a bail out, their pride has taken a huge blow. Like their British neighbors, the Irish have always been a bit hesitant with the EU (it was the the Irish who doomed the attempted European Constitution a few years ago in a popular vote). With their opinion of the EU lowering daily, some people are speculating that there may be attempts to have Ireland return to the Irish pound and begin distancing itself from the union-- perhaps, as Mr. Soden suggests, looking towards a stronger economic partnership with the United States than with Europe. Regardless of what happens, the Irish are facing their largest tax increases and government service cuts in their history. They've survived worse, and they'll survive this. Hopefully they will come out stronger for it. Éirinn go Brách.

Update: The Irish Government has collapsed, the Green Party demanding for immediate elections and ending their ruling coalition with Fianna Fáil. An Irish cousin of mine shot me this message on Facebook earlier today: "there is war going on over here.keep an eye on cnn grown men and women acting like kids for power its mad. the best ever. people stuck to the tv. its a laugh."
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