Michael Soden, former Bank of Ireland Chief and current Central Bank adviser, has been showing the kind of ingenious thinking that made Ireland’s financial enterprises the envy of the world by advocating, wait for it, Ireland leaving the EU and possibly becoming the 51st state of the U.S. Wow, someone give that man a medal. Preferably not The Charlemagne Prize though.
Part of me hopes this is some kind of Joaquin Phoenix-type pisstake, or some desperate histrionic attempt to flog the book he’s just penned. But then I realise that not only are bankers much more predisposed to the realm of mind-boggling fantasy than satirical humour, shy of claiming the secret to eternal youth is printed just below the publishing info nobody would dream of buying the thing anyway. So, unlike NAMA, I’m choosing to take the value of the comments at face value.
Soden opines that Ireland’s hands are tied by the EU and if Europe can’t find a solution that “accommodate(s) the needs of the Irish electorate, should we look elsewhere”. Interesting theory, though the needs of the Irish electorate are to dole out a battering that hasn’t been administered in four years. And Ireland’s hands are tied - such as it is – because Ireland is in such a bad financial state (because of people like him) that we have the largest deficit in the Union, four times the EU limit. And if Ireland did go the way of Greece, it’d be German taxpayers ruefully though dutifully paying the bill. Ireland was the architect of its own downfall, the EU are the recovery team.
He doesn’t stop there: “Our membership of Europe has to have balance in all aspects, particularly in relation to our culture, our sovereignty and the price we pay for economic and financial independence. Have we unwittingly surrendered these precious aspects of our society as the price of European Union membership?”
No, Michael, we have not. Back in 2001 around the time of the SSIA scheme launch the other 14 European finance ministers thought Charlie McCreevy’s economic policies were so insane that all he was missing was a white coat, a streak of unruly grey hair and a maniacal laugh, but it didn’t stop him pursuing them. Regarding sovereignty, the EU isn’t some hostage-taking cabal run by Alan Rickman and his brother Jeremy Irons, it’s the sum of its national parts. And for all the threats we’ve heard over the years Ireland has yet to be dragooned to service in a European Super Army or forced to legalize abortion. Though I will concede that the EU and its precursors did force our hand on some issues our own governments didn’t really want to go near, unconscionable things like paying women the same as men and decriminalizing homosexuality. The tyrannical bastards.
As for Europe’s role in our cultural erosion, I haven’t the faintest idea what people who say that mean exactly. Irish is an official language of the EU and you can find books and documents as gaeilge in Brussels with ease. They also fund thousands of community programs, international cultural exchanges and cross-border cooperation projects. There are myriad youth and community groups, organizations of incalculable value who would simply not exist without either the Youth In Action budget or the various stages of Peace funding.
It’s also worth stating that according to last year’s figures while the US is Ireland’s main export partner at about 21%, the next on the list is Belgium, on around 18%. Belgium is a country the size of Maryland with a population slightly higher than Michigan. But I’m sure if we were to switch sides, Governors O’Malley and Granholm could pick up the slack. And not to disappoint those who beat their chest or wave the flag decrying the loss of our independence, but prior to the EU we were practically reliant on trade with Perfidious Albion. I’ve heard it suggested brave old Ireland was better off before joining the EEC in 1973. We really weren’t.
But hey, maybe I’m being too hasty. Let’s consider part two of Soden’s bullet-proof plan, becoming the 51st state of the union:
“The possible consequences of political and economic association with the US would be a massive influx of foreign direct investment, a link to the US dollar, a reduction in unemployment, and who knows, maybe an annual payment for a number of years to get our finances back in balance.”
True, nothing asserts national sovereignty like joining another country. Apart from the fact if we joined the US it wouldn’t really be foreign direct investment anymore, it’s a very compelling case. After all, unemployment in the States is basically zero, and North Dakota can devalue the dollar unilaterally whenever it likes to stay competitive. I especially like the idea of the annual payment. If only there was some kind of continental union within Europe that provided structural funding of some kind to help us build up our infrastructure. Wishful thinking I guess.
Of course one section who wouldn’t like joining the US are politicians. Given Ireland has about the same population as Alabama, that means only seven congressmen/women, two senators and a governor at the top level. A lot of TD’s are going to be out of a job. Even Barack Obama would have trouble with the idea, as although he could rely on Ireland to vote heavily Democratic in election years, our Blue Dog stance on some issues would cause him a few headaches during congressional votes. Besides, it would totally take away our exotic allure.
The sad truth is that the origin of Ireland’s central corrosive problems are to be found much closer to home. The EU didn’t compel Charles Haughey to borrow an eighth of AIB’s annual income in the seventies, or take money from any businessman who’d indulge him. The EU didn’t compel TD’s to open Ansbacher accounts. The EU didn’t compel Michael Lowry to let Ben Dunne pay for house renovations, or Ivor Callely to fiddle his expenses by claiming he’d officially moved to west Cork even though his website claimed (and still claims) that he lives in north central Dublin. And the EU sure as hell didn’t compel the top brass of our banking sector to think they could do whatever the hell they liked, whenever the hell they liked. Or for our government to appoint the more insane amongst them as an adviser to the Central Bank.
The EU might be terribly easy to complain about, but if Ireland left it in the morning and found traveling to Paris or the Algarve much harder, texts and calls much more expensive while over there or medical expenses costing an arm and/or a leg if God forbid you got in trouble, then those complaints would be ten times louder. And not for nothing, but if you did shun the EU and decided to holiday at home, it’s because of the European Blue Flag program that our beaches are as impressive as they are.
Ireland’s connections to the US are as valuable as they are historic and long may that stay the same, but to suggest we’d be better off without Europe is as churlish it is childish.