Even at the darkest moments of our economic collapse, when the viability of this State was a very real question, any comparison with the soul-destroying situation faced by Greeks offered a shard of comfort.
Embracing that comfort may have been mean-spirited but at a very dark moment for Ireland, the Greeks’ tragedy offered a salutatory lesson.
It showed how a crisis, if not confronted, would become a catastrophe.
That catastrophe moved, hopefully, to a final stage of resolution when, on Thursday night, eurozone members agreed an “historic” deal to end Greece’s eight-year bailout.
Cold, unforgiving figures fill out the libretto of these tragedies but the consequences cut deeply, often more deeply than seems tolerable. Greeks have endured very real pain since the first bailout in 2010.
The country was shamefully derided at its lowest ebb by former finance minister Michael Noonan as an economy that produced little other than feta cheese.
So much for the idea of the EU solidarity, one we now depend on to fend off the worst lunacies of Brexit.
Greece saw its GDP fall by 25% which led to eye-watering cuts in public service and social programmes. Twice, Greece almost crashed out of the euro.
To secure the deal, Greece has begun to deliver on the conditional “88 prior actions”, ranging from public sector reform to establishing land-registry system, pension, and welfare reforms and the introduction of a more effective tax collection system.
As in all such deals, it is difficult to filter the millions from the billions but one set of figures offers a worthwhile comparison and may make our undoubted debt difficulties seem modest. Although Greece’s growth rate is improving and the country is running a small government surplus, its debt stands at 180% of GDP. That, according to 2017 figures, is considerably more than twice the Irish figure of 68%.
Our highest ever ratio — 119.60% — was reached six years ago, an almost incomprehensible increase since the low of 23.60% in 2006.
The calm before the storm indeed. The Greeks’ difficulties offer many lessons. There is one that has a sharp relevance for us but one we may not have absorbed.
Andreas Georgiou may not be a familiar character in our conversations about how we might make this a better country, a more effective and fairer society.
He is a statistician and was appointed to lead the Greek central statistics office at the height of the crisis. He discovered that the agency published dishonest figures that meant his country was living a fantasy and should not have been allowed join the euro. He published the real, sobering figures.
His thanks? Georgiou was prosecuted for “falsifying” figures and causing Greece “extraordinary damage”. Messenger, shoot etc.
The Greeks’ difficulties are not by any means resolved but they are, to a large degree, now responsible for their own destiny.
That may be scant enough comfort but if, this morning, they look eastwards across the Aegean Sea to where their Turkish neighbours go to the polls tomorrow and face the prospect of an Islamic autocracy, they might be encouraged to make the best of this hard-won, long-sought opportunity.
Let us hope they do and wish them well in that venture.