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Noonan's walk of shame as the bullied join the bully boys

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CRISIS MEETING: Michael Noonan pictured with IMF chief Christine Lagarde (centre); Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, second left; Italy’s Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, far left, and France’s Finance Minister Michel Sapin, far right, at a Greek debt meetiing in Brussles last week

CRISIS MEETING: Michael Noonan pictured with IMF chief Christine Lagarde (centre); Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, second left; Italy’s Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, far left, and France’s Finance Minister Michel Sapin, far right, at a Greek debt meetiing in Brussles last week

AP

CRISIS MEETING: Michael Noonan pictured with IMF chief Christine Lagarde (centre); Dutch Finance Minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem, second left; Italy’s Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan, far left, and France’s Finance Minister Michel Sapin, far right, at a Greek debt meetiing in Brussles last week

Charlie Flanagan is Ireland's Minister for foreign affairs. God help us. Charlie is a nice chap, but what he is doing in Iveagh House is one of the great mysteries of Irish politics.

According to Charlie, he is earning his living travelling the globe "accepting plaudits". In an interview with Daniel McConnell in the Irish Independent last week he was euphoric: "Everywhere I go, I accept plaudits for the economic growth and people say to me to give regards to Enda Kenny as he has done a good job". He even went on to boast that "Ireland is now the pride of Europe".

Ireland is not "the pride of Europe". Its Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, is the hero of Europe's leaders. Its finance minister, Michael Noonan, does Europe's dirty work. Its foreign affairs minister, Charlie Flanagan, accepts the plaudits.

The Irish trio has been captured. The Irish people are forgotten. The Irish economy is marching to the European tune. And the minister for foreign affairs is "accepting plaudits" from his master's masters.

It is bad enough that Charlie rejoices in being feted, a passive sponge soaking up applause for Ireland's obedience. It is worse that Ireland's voice at the top tables is now that of an active crusader for punitive measures and an advocate for the big nations. Once upon a time we had a reputation for neutrality. Today we have opted to side openly with the bully boys against lonely Greece. Probably because, not long ago, we ourselves were bullied.

Quite an ugly development for a country with a noble record of solidarity with the underdog. Is this the same nation that was once recognised as an early opponent of Apartheid with a proud anti-colonial past?

The sight of Noonan lining up behind the hardest of European hardliners, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, against the isolated Greeks in Brussels last week filled Irish hearts with shame. Noonan alone was quoted in The Financial Times as echoing the demands of Schauble and pushing for restrictions on emergency liquidity for Greek banks unless capital controls were imposed. According to the same newspaper, Noonan even "argued forcefully" for his new mission.

On Monday, so forcefully did the German and Irish finance ministers combine to beat up the Greeks that they were even warned off by the super-austere European Central Bank (ECB). The Financial Times reported that the ECB told the duo to back off as monetary policy was off limits for politicians.

On Tuesday, out of his European comfort zone but back in the Dail bearpit, Noonan pleaded that he had been "misrepresented". He seemed embarrassed by his own enthusiasm. He condemned the "leaks, supposition and spin." Significantly, he never denied the FT's story.

Charlie will be receiving bouquets from the Bundestag this weekend. Michael and Enda have done Europe proud. A pity about Ireland, though.

What is behind Ireland's extraordinary stance on the Greek crisis? Why have we become not only the cruel enforcers of debts but also the nastiest of the nations demanding that the Greek people pay a punitive price for their economic woes? On Thursday, Tanaiste Joan Burton joined the crowd of Syriza bashers when she told the Greeks to stop "lecturing" Europe.

Noonan and Kenny usually preface their tough words with a token gesture of sympathy for the Greek people before threatening economic Armageddon.

Their hostile stance can only partly be explained by reducing the Greek tragedy to its impact on Irish domestic politics. If the Greek tactics work, if they are given a debt writedown, if the European boot is taken off their throat, the Greek leaders will be seen to have succeeded where Ireland failed. Noonan and Kenny rolled over in front of the Troika. They indulged in none of the histrionics of Alexis Tsipras or Yanis Varoufakis.

The two Greek leaders may be drama queens, but if they extract concessions where Ireland failed, our citizens will immediately ask why we did not achieve similar leniency. As the election approaches, the Government does not want it made obvious that their craven sycophancy was the wrong strategy, even that our suffering was unnecessary.

No, there is another more sinister agenda at work. The governments of Europe find the new regime in Greece intolerable. Unlike Ireland's coalition, dominated by the Christian Democrats in Fine Gael, the impostors in power in Greece do not play the European game. They refuse to toady to the bureaucrats. They have no respect for European protocol or the financial orthodoxy dictated by Fine Gael's fellow Christian Democrats, Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble.

The big powers of Europe's most fervent wish is to see Syriza toppled, followed by a return to a more amenable coalition of like-minded conservatives. Their hardline is motivated by the hope that a humiliation, tough unacceptable terms imposed on Greece, will prompt a rebellion in the ranks of Syriza. The government will fall. The ensuing general election will see Syriza split into its individual parts.

Fiscal hawks and the unelected European officials yearn for a return to the days when they were faced across the table by Greece's answer to Enda Kenny, the agreeable New Democracy prime minister Antonis Samaras. The endgame for them is that Syriza will fail to live up to Greek peoples' expectations, the government will collapse and that disillusioned Greece will elect its Noonans, its Kennys and its Flanagans.

So far, the opposite is happening. Tsipras has a 70pc approval rating in Greek opinion polls. The policy of destabilising the Greek government is backfiring. The citizens are rallying against European diktats. They know, above all, that the €338bn Greek national debt is the elephant in the room. Every economist in Europe admits that the Greek debt will never be repaid. Despite Enda Kenny's little outbursts, a write-off is simply a matter of time. Any solution that fails to address debt relief or writedowns is a fudge. Debt forgiveness is coming, however embarrassing for the Irish negotiators who failed to secure it for themselves.

The abyss had been beckoning all last week. Noonan does not seem to understand the dangers of a Greek departure from the eurozone. His absurd claim that there would be no "contagion effect" if Greece defaulted and left the eurozone was bravado. It was contradicted by Moodys, which insisted that a Greek exit would be dangerous for Ireland's banks. Moodys recognises that they are fragile. No one knows the implications of Greek banks plunging us into the unknown. Only a fool or a puppet would suggest he had a crystal ball on contagion.

Where did Noonan find the evidence to give such a hostage to fortune? Perhaps he was fired up for his bold forays last week when he quietly attended a pre-eurogroup meeting of the centre-right European People' s Party, an outfit that includes Schauble and the equally orthodox Finnish finance m inister Alex Stubb.

Last weekend, another finance minister, Greece's Varoufakis, took space in The Irish Times to appeal to the Irish people over the heads of the Irish Government. On Friday's Morning Ireland he repeated the exercise. He cited Noonan himself - in a private eurogroup meeting -revealing that the matter suddenly being discussed by the finance ministers had been bounced on them by the big unelected powerhouses of Europe for rubber stamping.

They had not been allowed to see key documents before being asked to ratify them. Varoufakis was putting his hand into a gaping wound in the body of Europe. His appeals may have resonated with the people of Ireland but they fell on deaf ears in Iveagh House. If Ireland had responded, it would have been the end of Flanagan's plaudits.

It is not a pretty sight to see our leaders standing shoulder to shoulder with the IMF, the ECB, the European Commission, Angela Merkel and Wolfgang Schauble.

Are the bullied joining the bully boys?

Sunday Independent