Following the election recently of the new left wing government in Greece led by the radical Syriza party, there has been a great deal of soul searching here in Ireland.
Syriza immediately demanded a serious reduction in its debt from the EU and the IMF. It wanted the bailout austerity program forced on Greece to be eased significantly. It claimed that its mandate from the Greek people had given it the right to demand a change in policy in how the Greek debt crisis was to be handled.
All of which made uncomfortable viewing here in Ireland. We are all aware that the financial crisis in Greece in the past few years has caused suffering on a scale that has not been seen in any other European country, and certainly not in Ireland. There is much sympathy for poorer people there.
But if the Greeks were to get a big write down of debt, surely that would make us Irish look like idiots for playing by the rules and paying up so obediently? After all, there has been hardship here as well, with cutbacks in services and people losing their jobs and their homes and struggling to make ends meet.
Our government was told in 2011 when it came into office that writing off debt was impossible, that we had to knuckle down and stick with our austerity program to get our budget deficit under control. We were warned that if we started burning bondholders the emergency funding we were getting would be cut off.
We were told we had to make our repayments on time, as agreed, no matter how difficult it was. We got some extension in loan schedules and some lower rates, but no write off. Period.
So over the past few weeks as it began to seem possible that the Greeks might get a debt write off deal, questions began to be asked here. Were we right to accept that all of our massive debt burden has to be paid back, even though much of the bailout money we got was used to pay back foreign banks that had gambled on the Irish boom, and even though making the repayments places a huge burden on the Irish people and will do so for years to come?
For many people here the answer to this question is obvious. The new Greek government was right to tell the EU and the IMF to back off. It was doing what the Irish government should have done back in 2011.
Many people here believe that, like the Greeks are doing, we should have played hardball and threatened to bring the whole house of cards tumbling down.
As this scenario played out and the new Greek Prime Minister and his finance minister toured the European capitals refusing to toe the line, the government here was clearly uncomfortable. They knew that if the Greeks got a significant debt reduction deal, it would make the Irish government look like fools.
So it was hardly surprising, even if a little shocking, that the Irish government joined other EU countries in saying that the Greeks had to stick with their Troika program and that there could be no debt write down for them.
As you probably know, it came down to the wire a week ago and the Greeks blinked first. They really had no alternative, since the financial taps were about to be turned off and the impact of that on the Greek people would have been even worse than anything we have seen up to now.
So a deal was done which will keep the money flowing for the next four months while the new Greek government brings in reforming legislation and starts up the program of change that it outlined to the EU last week. At stake is the next tranche of bailout money for Greece, over €7 billion, due to be given to them in April if all goes well. It's not quite the end of the hated Troika power over Greece, as Syriza had demanded, but there is some softening of the language being used to allow the new Greek government to claim at least a partial victory at home.
They have succeeded in getting one important demand across the line. The Troika had been insisting that the recently (and painfully) achieved Greek budget "primary surplus" (this excludes debt servicing payments) had to be increased.
The Troika wanted the primary budget surplus to be bumped up from 1.5 percent of GDP last year to three percent this year and 4.5 percent next year, all of which would have meant more cutbacks and sucked more money out of the Greek economy and made it even harder for Syriza to keep its election promises on restoring welfare and pensions.
That money would have been used for debt servicing instead of helping the Greek people, and it was the last thing an economy in recession needed. And that approach by the EU masters will be only too familiar to Irish people.
The new Greek government has now got agreement that the amount of this primary surplus will in future be linked to economic recovery. Which in simple language means that as the economy recovers their debt payments will increase -- but not before. That alone is quite an achievement and something like that would have been very welcome here at the height of the cutbacks.
But the Irish government does not seem to know how to play hardball so we did not get it. In fact we did not even ask for it.
That was made clear by the statement a week ago by the former IMF head of mission in Ireland, Ashoka Mody, who was a key player in the Troika team when it was here. He said that the Irish government had not gotten the best deal possible for Ireland in negotiations with the IMF in 2011 because we had given in too easily and because we had bought into the EU-IMF policy line on austerity and repayment of all debt. He also said that our meek acceptance of what we were told to do at the time had made it much more difficult for the Greeks in the last few weeks.
Whether Syriza will live up to the undertakings it outlined to the EU a week ago remains to be seen. There is a real fear that they are saying one thing in Berlin and Brussels and something else altogether when they get back to Athens.
The problem is that the Greek economy is a real basket case and has been for a long time. They have tourism and shipping, but not a great deal more.
Very few products seem to come from Greece, apart from small amounts of agricultural goods. Unemployment is up around 25 percent, and the whole economy is rife with tax evasion, kickbacks and official corruption. The state sector is highly overmanned and inefficient and eats up far too much of national income and the unions resist any real change.
Tax collection is a major problem at all levels, but particularly in the better off sections of Greek society where tax loopholes and dodgy allowances enable people to reduce their tax liability to virtually nothing. It's been like that for years and changing it is not going to be easy, even for a determined left wing party like Syriza.
Making real change without alienating their union support will be difficult. The Troika program wants large parts of the Greek economy now in state hands to be privatized to increase efficiency.
But Syriza is already rowing back on the commitments made by the previous administration to privatize the big port of Piraeus and Greek airports, for example, as well as refusing to sell off the state's controlling stake in the country’s power utilities.
There is a great deal of sympathy for the plight of the poor in Greece, many now living on the streets and existing with the help of charities and food banks. But there is not much sympathy across Europe for the majority in Greek society who have allowed the country to sink to this level.
The problem is that any debt forgiveness will have to be paid for by taxpayers in the other EU countries, including countries in Eastern Europe where they think Greece has had it too easy for too long and should just get on with the necessary reforms.
These countries face their own economic problems, as do Spain, Portugal and Italy and they have limited patience with the Greeks. Even in wealthy Germany last week there was massive public anger at the idea of giving the Greeks any more money unless they commit to delivering completely on reform.
Despite the four month funding deal last week, the Greeks are certainly up against it. This summer they have to make a €6.7 billion repayment to the European Central Bank, which is three times their remaining cash assets.
And there are other repayments looming. They simply can't pay it all, so debt write down remains unavoidable according to many experts, despite what was being said last week.
If that happens, Ireland will have a strong case. Last week the head of the Kerry Group, Stan McCarthy, said that Ireland should get a new deal on its debt if Greece gets one. "Ireland should not be punished and Greece rewarded,” he said, referring to all the austerity here over the past few years.
He's the head of an €11 billion global food business, so his views carry weight. And he's not the only one.
The Irish Minister for Agriculture Simon Coveney also said recently that Ireland would have to be given any concessions on debt that Greece gets. A "different standard" cannot be applied to Greece, Coveney said.
The Irish government has repeatedly made the point that the differences between Greece and Ireland are so great that comparing how the two have dealt with the EU and the IMF and their respective bailouts and debt mountains is not valid.
There is a lot of truth in that. But it is also true that, despite the very weak hand they had to play, the new Greek government has managed to get the EU and the IMF to reconsider their policies in a way that Ireland never did.
So yes, there is probably a good deal we can learn from them.