Tuesday 16 July 2019

How Noonan converted a reluctant Greek leader

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Thank God for Michael Noonan. Thank God for a Minister for Finance who acts with good authority.

That's the mental prayer I said for the Irish Minister for Finance last Monday as I watched TV pictures of the former Greek Minister for Finance, Yanis Varoufakis, speeding off into the sunset on his motorbike.

Perched behind him on the pillion seat was his wealthy wife Danae Stratou, heiress to the Peiraiki Patraiki textile works - which went bankrupt, leaving her family still with the loot.

Good riddance, I added, as these two easy riders gunned away from the grim carnage of the Greek economy.

Are Irish leftists so devoid of class politics as not to be sickened by the adolescent antics of Syriza's playboy professor?

Last week, the Guardian explained why poorer European countries have the biggest problem giving the Greeks any more free gifts.

Latvia went through the same crisis as Greece in 2009. But instead of striking postures, it imposed tax increases of 15pc of GDP.

Paul Krugman, who has been promoting Syriza in the Irish Times, predicted Latvia would end up the same bad way as Argentina.

But Krugman was as wrong about Latvia as he was about Syriza. Today Latvia is one of the fastest-growing economies in Europe.

Look at Lithuania, which lives with an average monthly pension of €242.10 before tax, compared with €700 in Greece.

No wonder Valentinas Mazuronis, head of the Lithuanian Labour Party, wants real Greek reform, not "another hocus pocus".

Syriza inherited a country clawing its way out of trouble. Tsipras gave into the Trots and took it back to the dark ages.

So why should the poorest countries in Europe be asked to give Greece €53.5bn in loans when on past performance it's simply pouring money down the drain?

St Paul speaks for the struggling people of many poor EU countries when he says "He who will not work, neither let him eat".

Most Irish people feel the same. Why should we reward Syriza for wanting to pump our money into a delinquent economy?

Why should the real people of Ireland - as opposed to Sinn Fein's abstract 'people of Ireland' - support Sinn Fein-Syriza's political agenda?

Why should real Irish people - compliant taxpayers with mortgages, families and bills - cough up more cash to bail out a band of political playboys like Syriza?

Every party in Ireland should have put that hard question to Sinn Fein. Alas, far from backing Michael Noonan and the poorer countries of the EU, our politicians kicked to touch.

In the Seanad, Senator Jim Darcy was almost alone in asking two hard questions on behalf of the people of Co Louth townland of Haggardstown - his humorous metaphor for Middle Ireland.

First, Haggardstown wanted to know if Sinn Fein was still backing the Syriza-led Greek government, and was it still pally with the guy who visited their Ard Fheis?

Second, Haggardstown wanted to know whether a bailout meant the Irish people would have to pay for Greek professionals and tax dodgers who had for long lived high on the hog?

Joe Duffy's phone poll last week, showing that 66pc had problems with scenario, confirmed that Senator Darcy had his finger firmly on the public pulse.

But Senators Labhras O Murchu, Paschal Mooney and David Cullinane wanted the Greeks bailed out with no mention of any austerity to help with the payback.

Listening to them, Senator Mary White of Fianna Fail was full of loudly repeated 'hear hear's.

Senator White's republican populism is totally out touch with the mood of most people in Dublin-Rathdown, where she proposes to run at the next general election.

They are far more likely to be in sympathy with last Friday's strong statement by Councillor Jim O'Callaghan of Fianna Fail, which echoes Micheal Martin's position.

O'Callaghan starts by saying that Sinn Fein has sought to use the suffering of the Greek people to advance its own political agenda in the Republic.

"Since Syriza came to power in Greece six months ago, Sinn Fein has sought to posture as a green Syriza in the South, while acting like Tories in government in the North."

He is not impressed by the fact that Syriza wants to remain loyal to its rhetoric of populism, because "it wants other countries, including Ireland, to pay for its loyalty".

Like me, O'Callaghan believes the past six months have been like a laboratory test of what a Sinn Fein government would mean for Ireland: "Starting a battle with the European institutions, as was done in Greece, would cause suffering and economic chaos in Ireland that would set the country back 25 years."

Apart from the hapless Greek working class, the biggest losers have been Syriza-Sinn Fein and their supporters across Europe.

After six months of procrastinating and posturing, Alexis Tsipras has been finally forced to accept the austerity package that Michael Noonan said he would have to accept.

So much so that Noonan can now legitimately claim Tsipras as a reluctant convert to a sense of reality and responsibility.

* * * * *

The Banking Inquiry last week left a major player off the hook. And no, I am not talking about Brian Cowen.

I'm talking about Cowen's close friend Fintan Drury, who was formerly a non-executive director of Anglo.

Cowen had three contacts with Anglo bankers in the crucial year 2008. Fintan Drury was involved in all three contacts.

So why did the Banking Inquiry not call Drury and ask him about the chronicle of these contacts?

All it had to do was follow Fionnan Sheahan's clear chronicle of the three contacts in the Irish Independent of January 2011.

First, in March 2008, after a massive drop in Irish stock-market share prices, Drury set up a phone call between Cowen and Sean FitzPatrick.

Second, in April 2008, Drury set up a dinner between Brian Cowen and Anglo directors Sean FitzPatrick, David Drumm, Gary McGann, and Drury himself in Dublin.

Finally, in July 2008 Drury set up a golf outing and dinner at Druids Glen, Co Wicklow, so Brian Cowen could meet Anglo players Sean FitzPatrick, Gary McGann - and Drury.

Fintan Drury was the common factor in these three contacts. So why did the Banking Inquiry not call him in to confirm the contacts were not about Anglo's affairs? Baffling.

But not as baffling as the light-touch reporting of the central role of this major player in Irish public affairs.

* * * * *

Sometimes it takes a whole village to bury a beloved son. For 10 days, Baltimore held its breath in sympathy with Ann Davis as the relentless search went on. But now Barry Davis-Ryan is home from the sea. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam.

Sunday Independent

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