Magazine article The Spectator

I No Longer Understand What 'Ireland' Means

Magazine article The Spectator

I No Longer Understand What 'Ireland' Means

Article excerpt

The defining commentary of this ongoing financial crisis, for me, came from Gerald Hill of the Midlands, in a letter to the Times in March 2009. 'Sir, ' he wrote, 'I can now understand the term "quantitative easing" but realise I no longer understand the meaning of the word "money".'

I'm with Gerald. Take the IMF and EU bailout to Ireland, intended to calm market fears over that country's debt crisis. I understand 'IMF' and I understand 'EU'. I understand 'bailout' and I understand what a 'debt crisis' is, and why this particular one has happened. I also, pretty much, understand 'the markets', even if I do struggle to grasp why we're all happy to use this vague, distancing term, and don't replace it with 'this particular named list of bankers who are making a killing out of ruining the world'. But what I no longer understand, in any sort of meaningful sense, is 'Ireland'.

Who has this debt? The Irish? But the Irish can leave. They leave all the time.

They're famous for it. So what happens to Ireland if they do? Does it become an economic plagueland, a fiscal Chernobyl, where the air is fine and the water is fine, but where nobody can actually live because of the nebulous, suffocating pollution of debt? How weird is that? And the Irish themselves, cast out into the world. . . for why? Not stateless, not refugees of war, not even your typical economic migrants; not seeking better prospects, but fleeing negative prospects. Fleeing a suffocating debt they owe to the rest of the world, that will stop being theirs if they move to the rest of the world.

Did you know that McDonald's pulled out of Iceland a year ago? Mr Ogmundsson, the franchise-holder, told reporters that people still wanted Big Macs, desperately, but it was impossible to provide them at a profit.

Poor Mr Ogmundsson. There's commercial tundra for you. One article I read suggested that 5,000 Icelanders are leaving each year, and that the country now has a chronic shortage of electricians. The pervading atmosphere, among those who remain, seems to be one of battening down the hatches, blaming the rest of the world for everything that has happened, and doing your utmost to convince yourself that you can survive the next century on volcanoes, mackerel and rhubarb alone. Ireland isn't Iceland, though. The Irish have Ryanair. If they want Big Macs, it's so much easier to get out.

When the emperor claims he has new clothes, it seems harmless enough to humour him, particularly if it means that you, too, can go out in the buff. …

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