Ireland can really learn a lot from Greece

His party, far left Syriza, was elected on the back of the savage austerity programme that Greece has had to endure for over five years. His commitment to his voting constituency was that he would force his creditors – the EU, ECB and IMF- to seriously mitigate the impact of the austerity the Greek people have had to endure.

At the time, parties of the left right across Europe, including in Ireland, cheered on Tsipras and Syriza. They wished them success in their efforts in the hope that finally the austerity solutions taken by mainstream European governments would be proven wrong when the powerful financial forces of Europe were forced to back down in the face of a Greek revolt.

Whilst Tsipras and his finance minister have been fighting ongoing rearguard actions, over the last year, they have still not succumbed. They have not rolled over, despite the enormous power of our unelected EU masters.

Tsipras and his government have taken Europe to the brink and back on more than one occasion. Offers of reform and counter demands for even more austerity from the EU have been made, and rejected. Despite protestations that the euro was on the verge of toppling, the game continues to this day.

Syriza’s opposition, centrists and right wing parties across Europe, has used the apparent lack of success by Tsipras in getting the EU to back down as proof positive that his policies are wrong. Ireland has even tried to stymie its efforts and urged it to roll over just like we did and let the EU et al to dictate to us. We should not be so sure that Tsipras has lost. He seems to be an expert in brinkmanship. He has played Russian Roulette with the EU including going so far as to play cosy with Vladimir Putin, current Tsar of Russia.

On Tuesday last, Tsipras went so far as to suggest on the one hand that failure to agree a rescue deal with Greece would spell the end of the eurozone, and on the other, that a deal between Athens and its creditors could be close.

Greece also had to concern itself with the troika. However, in the face of serious opposition from the Greek population, there is now no apparent direct interface with the troika. If our European masters had a leg to stand on they would have ended this ongoing stalemate long ago. So maybe there is something in what Tsipras says. If the past is anything to go by, he might be half right, particularly when compared to our experience.

When the troika landed on these shores the boot went in hard immediately. We were subjected to horrendous austerity measures which hurt the weak and the poor worst and barely impacted on those who had a hand, act and part in putting us in such dire straits.

The troika prevented us from ‘burning the bondholders’ – the financial gamblers who sought to benefit from the perceived successes of Anglo Irish. Our government rolled over. Sure, our economy seems to have improved somewhat but we are beholden. We did a Neville Chamberlain in the face of European power and paid the senior gamblers off risk- free.

Not so, the Greeks. When Greece agreed its initial restructuring deal, way back in 2012, its debt was cut by €100bn. It burned the bondholders like it was bonfire night. Now, with each act of brinkmanship Greece sees a further relaxation in EU demands.

Outgoing Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan, recently argued that under new European rules, the taxpayers will no longer be tapped to bail out junior bondholders.

There is still some €270m in junior bondholder gambling money unpaid. Here, the taxpayer ponied up some €30bn to save IBRC banks. Yet, for some strange reason, gamblers have a first call on any surplus made by IBRC. Now, €270m is not a lot, but as Professor Honohan is reported to have said “clearly the moral case for this (burning these bondholders) is almost unassailable but there are also good economic arguments” and also that “the principle is important for our case in Europe and for public acceptance of financial sector policy”.

Interestingly, on Tuesday, Joan Burton jumped on the bandwagon.

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