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David Quinn: We weren't the only country caught with our pants down

Our politicians made a show of themselves again this week. The mature and sensible thing to do would have been to let the Government stagger on for a couple more weeks so as to have a proper debate about the Finance Bill.

Rather than do this, the Greens decided it was time to pull the plug on the Government -- over a cabinet reshuffle! Fianna Fail then turned on its leader and ditched him. The opposition insisted we had to have an election in February rather than endure waiting until March 11 and so they ensured this happened.

But if our politicians had managed to contain themselves until March 11, the outside world would have seen us pass the Finance Bill in an orderly fashion -- albeit with disagreement over its contents -- and our democracy would have conveyed a slightly better impression to the wider world than it did.

Now, you could be forgiven at this point for thinking this is going to be another one of those articles that indulges in the very fashionable pastime of national self-flagellation.

You know how these go. I'd say how we've disgraced ourselves again on the world stage and I'd ask how we're ever going to live this down etc.

In fact, this sort of analysis is actually deeply self-indulgent. It assumes that what we have done is so embarrassing and so shameful that the disapproving eyes of the entire world are upon us.

The truth is that many countries have reason to be embarrassed just now. Consider Belgium, for example. For the last seven months Belgium has been ruled by a caretaker government. This is a European record.

In last June's elections, the New Flemish Alliance won the most seats and it wants greater autonomy for Dutch-speaking Flanders. However, the head of Wallonia's French-speaking Socialists, Elio Di Rupo, opposes this.

There has been a stand-off ever since and accordingly Prime Minister Yves Leterme has had to stay on as head of the caretaker government.

Imagine if Fine Gael and Labour couldn't agree on a programme for government and therefore Fianna Fail had to remain on in power for seven more months -- in power, but unable to do anything? Imagine the embarrassment then.

Or what about Italy? Silvio Berlusconi and his carry-on have made the country a laughing stock. He is a sort of latter-day Emperor Tiberius who lived out his last debauched days on the island of Capri.

Italy's public finances are also in terrible shape and if the IMF and the EU have to bail out the Italians, it's probably game over.

Meanwhile, in Greece -- which is Italy on speed -- Greek governments cooked the books for years to pretend the country was more solvent than it was. The whole rotten edifice has now collapsed but many Greeks are in a state of complete denial about it. They still think it's possible for public servants to retire on generous state pensions in their 50s and that someone else should pay for it.

Portugal, as we know, is edging towards a bailout of its own. So is Belgium and its case isn't helped by the political uncertainty there.

Spain may also yet find itself in trouble, while the Germans are not quite as financially virtuous as they seem. Germany's rapidly ageing population may eventually push it towards insolvency as health and pension costs rise and the number of workers declines.

This is true of almost the whole of Europe, where the politics of avoidance still reigns supreme.

Also, and as has been endlessly pointed out by others, Europe's banks are exposed to our banks to the tune of hundreds of billions of euro. Belgian banks alone are exposed to the tune of €54bn.

This means it wasn't just us Micks who overinvested in our property boom. We were not the only idiots. There were plenty of well-paid idiots in the banks of Germany, France, Britain, Belgium and so on who fell lock, stock and barrel for it as well.

This, of course, is what makes it so galling that the Irish tax-payer is being made to fully cover the mistakes of European banks as well as our own. John Bruton was correct to remind European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso of this the other day.

Are Ireland's embarrassments being over-reported in the international media compared with the mistakes and embarrassments of other countries? It's possible, because as an English-speaking country the powerful British and American media would likely report on our follies more than those of a country like Belgium.

But if our follies are being over-reported that would be unfair, and damaging. Yes, we've made a mess of things, but plenty of other countries have also made a mess.

When you are the only one caught with your pants down it's highly embarrassing. But when you discover that those pointing the finger at you also have their pants down, your sense of embarrassment should diminish. Indeed, it should be replaced with a mild sense of injustice.

Irish Independent