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Irish people have a right to see the scarlet letter from the ECB to Brian Lenihan


The late Brian Lenihan

The late Brian Lenihan

The late Brian Lenihan

In the days of multi-media platform surfing, endless screen scrolling and non-stop emails, physical letters have become increasingly unimportant. Save one.

There is renewed speculation that the communications between European Central Bank former President Jean Claude Trichet and former Finance Minister Brian Lenihan may be published, reversing a decision that the ECB and the Irish Government have held fast on for many years. Having suffered all of the consequences of its brutal impact, Irish people have a right to see this letter. The correspondence, a single communication which was discovered by a journalist through the Freedom of Information Act, remains the missing part of the Irish bailout jigsaw. The Holy Grail, the Magna Carta, the Third Secret of Fatima. Many believe that it was this communication that the late Minister for Finance was referring to when he said he had received verbal and written threats from Europe.

The effect of this sealed all of our fates and pushed us towards a European bailout and an austerity programme which was to last for years. Extraordinarily, it remains unpublished and only a handful of people have ever seen the actual letter. With an ultimate decision on its publication expected on November 6, we do not have much longer to hold our collective breaths.

There were in fact two letters sent to the Minister for Finance in November 2010. The first one seems of little consequence but the second communication, dated November 19, 2010 was to change everything forever. Until now, this letter has been considered by the ECB as "a strictly confidential communication between the ECB President and Irish Minister of Finance and concerns measures addressing the extraordinarily severe and difficult situation of the Irish financial sector and its repercussions on the integrity of the euro area monetary policy and the stability of the Irish financial sector".

It was made very clear that the situation was never just about Ireland - but about how it would have an influence on the economic well-being of other parts of the eurozone. The functioning of the euro currency was at stake.

In an effort to prevent any voluble or visible protests on the streets of Ireland, similar to the protests occurring in Greece, the European bureaucratic machine has continued valiantly to justify the confinement of the communication. They argued that "the ECB should remain in a position to convey pertinent and candid messages to authorities in the manner judged to be the most effective to serve the public interest" essentially euro speak for; let them eat cake.

So what has changed and why publish now?

Firstly, Ireland's economic situation has improved. Six years of austerity will do that for you. More importantly, Ireland's relationship with Europe has changed fundamentally. We went from being the European poster boy to the European problem child almost overnight.

The perception held by many ordinary Irish people is that we were effectively strong-armed into behaving like some Robin Hood in reverse; where the poor paid for the sins of the wealthy.

Those scars are more than economic, they are deep rooted and will linger in the public memory long after austerity has ended - a problem if Europe wants us to toe the line in the future.

Instead of being grateful for their rescue, many Irish people feel cheated by faceless bureaucrats who scorched Ireland with a prescriptive regime that would grind many families to a halt and many businesses into the ground. As a result, we now hold a deep-seated suspicion of everything east of Dun Laoghaire.

Like a wayward teenager who has seen the error of their ways, we must return to the embrace of the European project, tout suite. The question now is did the ECB overstep their boundaries between instruction and intimidation in its elusive missive? Having staved off publication for so long, there might be a danger that when this letter is finally released, it may not give us all of the answers that we are looking for. There is potential for it to be considered hyperbolic. A damp squib perhaps?

It will, however, solve one lingering problem for the man in Brussels. Ireland has now exited the bailout programme and the unpublished letter and the apparent implicit threat remain like a ghostly overhang to the political and economic progress that has been made to date.

Like the bogeyman in the wardrobe, once exorcised, the current ECB President Mario Draghi hopes that we can forgive and forget and all just get along again.

A timely reminder of where it all started, the dramatisation of the night of the bank guarantee was released on the silver screen this week.

'The Guarantee' covers the events of the infamous night of the bank guarantee, when the Irish Government decided to underwrite the entire domestic banking system. The home grown and fantastically depicted story coming to a screen near you is based on Colin Murphy's stage play 'Guaranteed'.

Proving the maxim that fact is often stranger than fiction, this is the depiction of a national horror story from start to finish and is the root cause for the now infamous communiqué.

The final consequence of the now notorious letter will be visible on the streets of Ireland today. As an austerity-angry public will again take to our streets and shed their temperate demeanour to demonstrate their displeasure at the shenanigans at Irish Water.

This may be one red letter day the Government and Europe might not be allowed to forget.

Irish Independent