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Lenihan was to blame for the bank bailout not the ECB

Before the hysteria starts it needs to be pointed out that the tone or content of the ECB letter, while meeting the usual Irish default need to blame someone else, isn’t the point.

The point is that Brian Lenihan and the Cowen government gave in to the threat and when people argue that he had no choice that mythshould be nipped in the bud immediately. Just as the myth that the Kenny government had no choice either is a myth.

The government of Iceland was given the exact same threat when it sought funding from the ECB, the IMF, the World Bank and other countries in 2008.

In fact the UK invoked anti-terrorism legislation because it and the government of the Netherlands jumped the gun in refunding depositors in Icesave when Lansbanki collapsed in 2008. Then they tried to retrospectively force the Icelandic taxpayer to cover the cost, but Iceland said no. That matter went to the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) Court and it ruled in January 2013 that Iceland did not break European free trade deposit guarantee law when it refused to compensate foreign depositors.

The president of Iceland first vetoed a political deal for the Icelandic taxpayer to refund those deposits in 2009 and again in 2010 long before Ireland sought its bail-out. So it is factually wrong as the Irish establishment claim, that the Irish Government had no alternative but to accept the terms of the bailout, which meant the Irish taxpayer taking on the entire debt of the banking system. If the Irish taxpayer had only been required to fund the loss of tax revenue and increasing welfare costs, and not the banking debt too, then the recession would not have been so severe and the brief window of opportunity to reform the country might not have been squandered.

The sad reality for Ireland is that, when it came down to it, Brian Lenihan put the needs of his party above the needs of his country.

The ECB was perfectly entitled to make whatever demands it wanted to but the Irish government was not obliged to accept them.

So before we rush off to attack the ECB, the political class and members of the government, both past and present, we need a reality check. The media has a role to play in not allowing the political class place the blame at the door of the ECB.

So let’s hope for a change that the Irish media is up to the job of making sure the right people are held to account and not succumb to that Irish tradition of deflecting responsibility away from us.

Desmond FitzGerald

Canary Wharf

London


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