Influencing Europe - Home levy and debt deal inseparable

Since it assumed office a year ago the Government has been under constant, growing pressure to resolve the shuddering debt crisis.

The Greek €100bn write off and the moderate flexibility shown to Spain over EU compact terms intensified that pressure, as do the business-as-usual, multi-million bonuses being paid to some international bankers.

Yesterday’s less than flattering claims about global bankers and kingmakers Goldman Sachs’ attitude towards clients make it even more difficult to believe that capitalism can work more fairly — or at all — for everyone or even that governments, no matter how powerful, can control the feral greed its abuse facilitates.

Of course it would be dishonest not to acknowledge both Government parties’ role in creating the pressure around debt restructuring. Both were happy to exploit the issue during the election campaign. Remember the calls to arms: “Labour’s way or Frankfurt’s way,” or the stonewalling — “not another cent”? The responsibilities of Government quickly sidelined those promises but whether you consider that position a betrayal or part of a long, slow, ongoing process is subjective, even tribal.

However, yesterday’s Paris statement from Michael Noonan, the finance minister, that the European Central Bank is “not enamoured” by about €30bn of promissory notes used to bail out dead-as-a-dodo Anglo, supports the patient ongoing-process argument.

Mr Noonan, stating the obvious for those who will not hear, said the ECB will be “crucial” in any decision to restructure the deal and lower the Anglo bill. How could it be otherwise? Did anyone really expect that an overnight solution, a comforting less difficult one, could be picked off the rails?

While Mr Noonan was in Paris doing the long, slow spadework for whatever might transpire — he may not succeed after all — the usual chorus was trying to do its very best to undermine the kind of stability and support we, through him, need to secure a new deal.

In the Dáil Sinn Féin was on the offensive, if that’s how it might be described, about the household charge. Outside the Oireachtas nine independents were promoting a “mass” rally to oppose the law. Undoubtedly the Government has a problem on this issue, but as most functioning societies have shown, a property tax like this one will eventually become an effective tool in providing the services that define modern countries.

Yet these groups, those who oppose the charge, are also amongst the most vocal in their demands for an immediate solution to our unsustainable debt. Are they so willfully blind that they do not see that the two are linked? Do they think that EU powerbrokers will soften our debt terms if we reject a household charge? Do they think that European taxpayers, many of whom pay multiples of what is proposed here, would accept the dichotomy?

So much of our political life and debate has been built on wishful thinking, so many of our demands for political reform have not involved reforming our own expectations to match the realities of the day. We still have friends in Europe, but the political opportunism at the root of the opposition to the household charge will strain those relationships just as we need them to be at their strongest.


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