A new story about Ireland

Jim-Larkin-clipped ICTU’s Macdara Doyle outlines Congress’ attempts to improve Ireland’s image abroad by arguing that the austerity measures are too severe and that the Irish people should not be forced to pay for the “sins” of senior bankers.

On 9 May, a senior Congress delegation travelled to Helsinki to meet with representatives of SAK (the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions). The meeting was part of an EU-wide initiative undertaken by Congress as part of our efforts to tell a new story about Ireland abroad and to change the picture and image of this country that has developed since the arrival of the bail-out troika in November.

It follows a meeting with our German counterparts – the DGB – in Berlin, in April. Next month we travel to Holland to meet with Dutch counterparts.

These trips are undertaken with both selfish national self-interest and the longer-term interests of the European project in mind. From a selfish perspective, we need to change the mood music about Ireland and explain that it was the private banks that brought down our wider economy.

We need also to explain that were it not for the blanket bank guarantee issued on 29 September 2008, the Irish tax-payer would not have been burdened with a huge and unpayable level of debt that they played very little role in running up.

We need to explain that, contrary to the assertion of Brian Lenihan, we did not all party.

Equally, we have endeavoured to explain that the bail-out troika are relying on not one, but two failed policies in their efforts to rescue the situation.

Firstly, the bail-out proper has failed in its stated intention of stabilising the Irish banking system. The second failing relates to imposition of a savage austerity programme as the chosen means of tackling the budgetary crisis.

After three years of austerity we have a bigger deficit, more people out of work and higher emigration. In short, we are squeezing life from the very economy that we desperately hope will grow sufficiently to enable us repay our debts.

It is self-defeating nonsense. But don’t take our word for it. That champion of the free market, The Financial Times, explains it somewhat better: “The process of fiscal adjustments across the Eurozone is so arbitrary, so uncoordinated, and – in countries like Ireland and Greece – so savage, that the cure is as likely as is the disease to kill the patient.”

Unfortunately, it is a slow death.

Our colleagues in the German DGB – who represent some seven million workers and possess considerable political clout – took our arguments on board and shared our analysis of the damage that austerity is doing across the EU.

And that’s where the wider, or longer- term, interests of the European project come into the frame.

If the bail-out troika – but more particularly the ECB and EU Commission – persist with the view that all Irish people must be made pay for the sins of senior bankers, then Project Europe is in trouble.

Because, apart from sending this country tumbling towards a disorderly default with unknown consequences for the EU banking system, such action sends a clear message that Social Europe is dead and has been replaced by Financial Europe.

Thus far, the terms of this crucial debate have been confined to the rarefied halls of Frankfurt and Brussels. In other words, the same old faces churning over the same old notions and simply confirming each other’s prejudices.

But what happens in the next 12 months will shape the future for all Europe’s citizens, which is why we have undertaken to make contact with the wider European trade union movement – perhaps the strongest, most democratic and broadest based of all civil society groups.

This debate needs to be taking place in every café and in every bar and at every kitchen table across all 27 member states.

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