And so concludes another week when the Troika came to town, took a look at the books, and gave the country a thumbs up (link to TheJournal.ie). In a press briefing yesterday, (Thursday 12th) responding to questions about the Croke Park agreement, the IMF’s Director of External Relations Gerry Rice said, “It has delivered the budgeted wage bill savings and the Irish authorities continue to manage public-sector wages within the agreement.” In the language of the IMF, that’s as close as you get to gushing praise.
We can be certain that media outlets right across Europe will pay close attention to this news. The country will probably be the subject of some fairly positive (if cautious) analysis, despite the refusal of the Irish summer to play nice.
Since the economic crisis began, a long line of foreign journalists have knocked on IMPACT’s door to talk to us about the economic crisis and how members are coping. Invariably they ask a lot of detailed questions, about how the crisis began, what the housing boom was like for workers and to what extent the Celtic Tiger was a myth. They ask a lot of questions about the Croke Park agreement too.
They are fascinated by the Croke Park agreement, not least because the unions and the government reached an agreement that has provided stability and continued industrial peace, seemingly against all odds. They all want to know howanyagreement was possible.
Journalists from Germany, Austria, France, Slovenia, Italy, the UK, Switzerland, Japan and beyond all ask the same questions and invariably make the same observations. They always express surprise that Irish people have not engaged in continuing scenes of angry protest, as has happened in other countries.
It’s a hard question to answer, but the available research suggests that, as much as possible, Irish people have determined to get on with it as best they can. But that’s not to say that they’re not angry either. It’s just expressed differently.
In the same week that the IMF reported that Greece had failed to meet all of its targets under its bailout programme, the international news agency, Reuters, published an analysis (links to the RTE website) contrasting Greek and Irish economic crisis management,
The strong endorsement for Ireland’s embrace of austerity is almost as uncomfortable to read as the characterisation of Ireland as the ‘best child in the class’ (a view consistent among the foreign journalists we’ve spoken to) against the ‘wayward child’ of Greece. It’s a patronising comparison, and it avoids the hard questions about the legacy of austerity. We can’t ignore the fact that some of the social and economic damage wreaked will be very difficult to remedy, and it isn’t over yet.
At least two more ‘austerity’ budgets face us, and what they might deliver will remain a source of contentious public debate. In his analysis this week, Brendan Keenan in the Irish Independent characterised Ireland’s current fiscal situation as a marathon runners ‘wall’ . It’s a fair comparison, and what we’ve learned from visiting journalists is that they believe the country is going to keep on running until this crisis passes.