Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A new Irish sovereignty

“Instead of drums and trumpets, our little apocalypse was played out against the background noise of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Finance murmuring evasive and mechanical denials.”

Thus writer Fintan O’Toole, in the Irish Times on Ireland’s bail-out by the International Monetary Fund and the British government.

The 94 years that have gone by since Ireland’s legendary Easter Uprising against British imperial rule seem to have come full circle. Yesterday Chancellor George Osborne announced that the British government was offering Ireland a £7bn loan in addition to the £77bn being offered by the European Union.

A sorry end indeed to the symbolic significance of the Irish Free State as a plucky David to Britain’s Goliath. That state, for all its betrayals, came into being following the martyrdom of many hundreds of heroic fighters. O’Toole points to the sense of a “historic threshold being crossed” in the psyche of the Irish.

The IMF-EU-British bail-out pulls away the façade of sovereignty that has provided a legitimacy –however threadbare – for Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the political elites who have ruled the Irish Republic since the end of the civil war in 1923.
But the truth is that the Irish state lost sovereignty to its own banks and speculators a long time ago. And by reducing its corporation tax to 12.5%, they already handed over control to the corporations in the mid-1990s, just as they are now doing to the IMF and EU.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen and his Minister for Finance Brian Lenihan are presently using the word “sovereign” in a new sense. In the past, as O’Toole notes ironically, “The Sovereign” used referred to the British monarch, “and as such it touched the rawest of nerves in nationalist Ireland. As the two Brians used it this week, though, the phrase is market-speak for ‘sovereign debt’.”

“There is nothing abstract”, O’Toole says, “in the sudden reality of officials from the EU and the IMF poring over the books in Merrion Street and the prospect of all big decisions on Government spending and taxation having to be approved by those same bodies for years to come. A simple rule of thumb for a sovereign state is that it – and it alone – makes its own decisions about taxation and spending. For the foreseeable future, Irish governments will not pass this test.”

But it is not only Ireland that is being humiliated by the arrival of the IMF-EU financial police. Greece has already had the visit and the “contagion” also threatens Spain and Portugal as Jean Claude Juncker, Luxembourg’s prime minister and chairman of the eurozone finance ministers’ group, warned yesterday. And the European Union is already interfering with the Irish government’s decision to hold a snap election in December.

Chancellor George Osborne claims that Britain helping Ireland because it is ‘a friend in need’. In reality, though, smaller states are being swallowed up by larger states, themselves subject to the global financial system. This is not the reimposition of “direct rule” or the old British imperialism. Neither is it the British government bailing out the Irish government. It is in fact a loan by the British government to British commercial banks, who hold £140 billion worth of outstanding Irish debt in business and property loans. RBS says it will have about £10 billion in "impaired" Irish loans next year. Lloyds is expected to write off more than £1.6 billion. And the bottom line is that the taxpayer is once again bailing out the banking system.

The new overlords are the global financial institutions to which even the most powerful governments and states are increasingly subject. So much for the notion of the “sovereignty of the people”, which was the aspiration, not only of the Easter Uprising of 1916, but the democratic idea behind national independence in general.
Dublin satirist Morgan C Jones, one-sixth of the Emergency acting group, is calling for a citizens’ protest outside the government’s Leinster House with placards saying “You’re fired”. He’s right – the days of governments in thrall to the financial markets are numbered. Regaining sovereignty – in other words, the self-determination of people over their own destiny – is only possible by developing alternative economic and financial ownership and control.

A World to Win’s new booklet, Beyond Resistance, published online today, through its analysis of the crisis, offers real ways forward to achieving real sovereignty.

Corinna Lotz
A World to Win secretary

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