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Old friends are best in times of trouble

THOSE with a strong enough stomach will have for two weeks been watching from afar the writhing death throes of the euro. For dying it indubitably is. But like all great monsters in its last agony, it can still inflict frightening wounds on those in the vicinity.

Is it really three years since a trusting and gullible world -- and forgive me but none was more trusting or gullible than the Irish -- first learned that the 'great and the good' were but greedy incompetents and had been for years? Apparently so. But looking back, it seems an age since we really believed that our politicians, economists and bankers knew what they were doing.

Now we all recognise, too late in our misery, that they had not a clue, save in the expertise of filling their trouser pockets while gambling away all our savings and our futures on insane bets that never came off. Now some of them, the bankers at least, still believe their careers, debts and bonuses should be rescued by yet more gelt from our taxpaying pockets. The impudence is simply breathtaking.

Up front of course, and most visible, are the politicians of the eurozone, flitting desperately from summit to summit, now in Marseilles, now in Warsaw, pretending to know what to do to avert Armageddon. They will, I fear, almost certainly fail. There is simply not enough money to pay all those gigantic debts, not even in Germany.

And Germany, not Greece, is, as I have said before, the key. Put basically, Greece cannot pay. The first huge bailout was not enough -- and by a sum equivalent to the same again. That is what Greece needs, and within a fortnight.

So poor Premier Papandreou twists in the wind while Germany's Chancellor Merkel and France's President Sarkozy pretend to sit in judgement. But it is all pretence.

France does not have the money to rescue Greece.

Sarkozy's presence is just a sop to save their blushes. The fact is, nearly half the Greek (non-existent) billions are owed to French banks. So Sarkozy is really just as much a supplicant as old Papandreou. If his banks (just devalued by credit agency Moody) go down the Seine, so does the little man's career.

Frau Merkel, a true EU fanatic, knows her German banks are owed almost as much as the French ones. And she knows that if Greece goes belly-up, the dominoes really start to fall. Portugal, Ireland, even Italy and Spain are in the frame. End of the euro; adios the eurozone; auf wiedersehen the EU and its endgame, the United States of Europe.

And Germany, Germany alone, has the money in her reserves. So what is the problem? For the first time in years, and never through intent, it is the people, the ignored, treated-with-contempt street people who have the power at last. At least in Germany. The Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe has seen to that.

Months ago, in a move hardly reported, a group of businessmen (rather like your Declan Ganley) went to their Supreme Court with a complaint. Is what our government doing legal under our constitution? And 10 days ago the judges of Karlsruhe replied. The first Greek bailout with German money was not illegal, after all. But (and it is a huge but) if there are any more, then this time it must be passed on the floor of the Bundestag, their Dail. For Frau Merkel, it was a bullet in the forehead.

German politicians are no different from your politicians. Top of their priority list is keeping their fat botties on the leather benches. Angela Merkel leads a whisker-thin coalition. The German people are rising from their centuries-long habit of obedience, and they are rising in anger. They are heartily sick and tired of it all: sick of the euro, yearning for their Deutschmark back, sick of hurling their billions at people mired in institutional corruption who retire at 53 and riot when told they no longer can. So, no; another massive bailout will not pass the MPs whose constituents are cutting up very rough indeed.

Papandreou is told in no uncertain terms that there must be yet another austerity plan in Greece (the third) if he is to have a hope of a second bailout, and the terms must be adhered to to the letter. And what do the Greeks do? They riot again. And the German voters turn on their tellies and watch.

Across the Pond, the White House tells the masters of the eurozone to get their act together before they bring not just the euro down but the whole global banking system. In an extraordinary intervention, the five BRICS countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa, just 20 years ago loftily regarded as second-grade wealth creators -- are asked if they can help.

It comes down to this. Whatever the turmoil, Greece will have to be ousted from the eurozone. Even then it is doubtful if the zone can survive.

And Ireland? Is there a future?

Of course, there is a future. It will start tomorrow. It always does. The future cannot vanish. The world will not stop turning; the sun will not stop rising.

I truly believe Ireland's best chance of avoiding misery almost without end is to accept the fact of the coming 'perfect storm', seize the moment and declare unilaterally that she wishes to abrogate the euro and re-establish the punt.

Of course, the rage in Paris, Brussels and, above all, Berlin would be volcanic, the threats blood-curdling. It would take nerves of steel. You used to have them or Wellington would never have called the Connaught Rangers the most fearsome cavalry he ever commanded.

But think beyond the punt. Yes, you would certainly need an ally, and fast, with another major reserve currency. And, having lost any last affection in Brussels and Berlin, who else loves tiny Ireland?

Actually, you are doing better than you thought.

The Queen said a few weeks ago we were no longer Big Brother and Little Brother but friends and equals. The huge majority of Brits agree; hence the seven billion that came direct from us (nothing to do with Brussels) when it was clear how deep the pit you had got yourselves into. And there is the 52-nation mutual-support Commonwealth plus the sterling zone.

Out to your west is the USA where at least 17 million voters (it may be more) claim Irish descent and cannot be ignored by any politician wishing to be re-elected. That is a truly powerful friend. Why not join the dollar? A dozen of the smaller countries of the western hemisphere use both their native paper and the US dollar as dual currencies. There are rules. Of course, there are. No more banking insanity. But it's one helluva protection to be close to the Federal Reserve, despite its present problems.

And three nations about your size -- Ecuador, Panama and El Salvador -- have abandoned their original currency and merged with the US dollar as their sole species. So what is Ireland going to do? Strike out for a new future with old friends or just sit there trembling?

Frederick Forsyth is the author of The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Fourth Protocol and other bestsellers. He is patron of Better Off Out, a group calling for Britain's withdrawal from the EU.

Sunday Independent