Alex Massie

To Solve The Irish Question, Ireland Must First Admit there Is a Question

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Alas, poor Hibernia. According to RTE, Brian Cowen Denies Any Bailout Talks. The rest of the world is not so easily fooled, however. These may be "technical" discussions but they're not discussing the finer points of hurling, are they? Among the more creative solutions to Ireland's predicament: rejoin sterling. According to Mark Reckless, Tory MP for Rochester:

Every MP I have spoken to says they would be happy for Ireland to have a guaranteed seat on the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee. This would mean that, unlike before 1979, Ireland as a sovereign country would have a proper say in setting sterling interest rates.

When we raised the idea with David Liddington, our Europe minister, at the Conservative Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday he was positive, if Ireland wants to explore this option.

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George Osborne can take advantage of Ireland's weakness?"

But, since people are talking about punts and pounds, let's also note that joining an expanded sterling zone would be but a temporary measure for the Irish. In the end, even a seat on the MPC wouldn't be enough. At no point can one imagine the MPC letting Irish needs trump those of the south-east of England when it comes to setting interest rates. It would be like a smaller eurozone. (Again, the same is true for Scotland and Yorkshire etc.)

For Ireland's leaders, however, this isn't just a political or economic struggle. It's also a mental battle: to what, if any, extent, can Irish ministers reconcile themselves to failure? Not just their own, but that of the euro too. At present, Ireland's politicians remain in denial. The safe harbour has not in fact protected the Irish ship of state from the storm. Not everything can be blamed on the euro - government policy has to be held chiefly responsible - but membership of the euro ceased helping some time ago.

Nevertheless, we should help Ireland and not just because history and language and kinship combine to make the Irish a special class of non-foreign foreigners*. We export more to Ireland than we do to China, Russia, India and Brazil combined. A bankrupt Ireland is not in our interests even before you start considering UK banks' own exposure to the Irish market.

*At least, that's how I see them. The Irish are less "foreign" to me than the Welsh and this, I suppose, should be declared as an interest or prejudice in these matters.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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Topics in this articlePoliticsausterityeuropeireland