There's something unedifying in the way British commentators appear to be enjoying the Irish crisis. Jon Snow tonight repeatedly demanded to know if Dick Roche, Ireland's minister of European Affairs felt "ashamed". Snow neither knew nor cared why Ireland was in a mess or whether the politician he was interviewing was responsible. He had not read the analysis that Roche referred him to in The Independent that said the immediate crisis was triggered by investors withdrawing from Ireland when Germany's Mrs Merkel had a pop at the weaker economies of Europe.
Nor did Snow listen when told that the Dublin government had done "everything that was asked of it". This is the more prescient point, surely. The Irish government embarked on a programme of extreme austerity measures some time ago that weakened the economy and made it more difficult to meet guarantees to the banks. The Irish were widely praised for their tough approach. which resulted one in 20 people defaulting on their mortgages, making the debt crisis even worse. No sense of that from Mr Snow. No sense either, that the UK is snapping at the heels of Europe's so-called economic "basket cases" - see table above.
It's time UK politicians and broadcasters stopped being so smug about Ireland. The crisis was caused by poor market regulation, reckless lending on property, and prostration before the markets - which characterise the UK's experience too. Tax-payers in the UK and Ireland are being asked to compensate the bankers for all their losses - with no guarantee that sovereign bankruptcy can be avoided. We are not "bailing out the Irish" as was suggested tonight on BBC Question Time. We are shoring up the debts of our own irresponsible financial institutions - again.
When David Cameron says Britain would "do it's bit to help" he's not so much being the kindly neighbour as watching his own back. UK exposure to Irish banks tops £100bn, much of which went of dodgy property speculation.
Another reason to avoid smugness is that the UK is now following the same disastrous economic policies as got Dublin into this mess. The big difference is that Ireland, as part of the Eurozone, cannot indulge in the Quantitative Easing used to inflate the UK economy and devalue sterling. That will bring its own problems as analyst Nadeem Walayat explains here. The table of countries most at risk of bankruptcy ought to wipe those smirks off the faces of UK pundits. It goes without saying that Scotland has little to gain from being part of this busted flush. The last government statistics showed us to be in surplus even after the UK banking bail-out was taken into account. Far from offering us protection, oil rich Scotland could find itself sinking with the UK ship. Have a look at the maps below which show the UK national debt as a proportion of GDP (UK worse than Ireland) and the government deficit at a proportion of GDP (UK just behind Ireland and ahead of Portugal).
|Click on a heading to sort by that measure|