Ireland : A grudging “Yes”
4 June 2012
On Thursday 31st May the Irish electorate voted 60/40 in favour of the EU fiscal compact. But it was not an act of ringing endorsement for the Union, but rather that of a despondent country, argues this Irish Independent leader.
Our masters in Europe and our administrators in Dublin would be wise to not read too much into Friday's fearful act of acquiescence. Far from being a vote of confidence in Europe, or the government for that matter, the sullen Yes this referendum secured from a grudging citizenry was an act of despair.
On Friday a heavy-legged electorate gave “their formal consent” to the ratification of the fiscal compact. Few, however, will say of a treaty delivered under the threat of 'immediate and terrible' austerity that it was granted with “full consent”.
In retrospect it was too idealistic to daydream about the possibility that we might be the mouse that roared at the failed policies of austerity. The smart money in the bond markets had already bet that Ireland, the dependable EU lapdog, always ready with an appeasing smile or a merry quip about feta cheese, would deliver and that house never loses.
For all our self-mystification as a rebel nation, when it comes to the battle between the heart and the head, our capacity to suck our collective thumbs and go with the head, which as far back as 1913 inspired the national poet W.B. Yeats to the despairing cry of “Romantic Ireland is dead and gone” is one of our defining characteristics.
In different, more conservative times one of the features of Irish life was the “unfortunate” girl who because of an excess of passion “got herself into trouble”, disappeared for a mysterious period and then returned to a life-time of pointed stares and squinting windows. Of course, no attention was ever paid to the sober-suited source of the trouble sitting at the front of the church each Sunday.
After our own “trouble” Ireland is, for now, back in the bleak heart of a European Union that appears to have quite forgotten that the prudent Prussian banker in the serge suit played no small role in Ireland's fiscal “sin”.
Sadly, despite Ms Merkel's patronising “respect and appreciation”, last Friday only served to confirm that, whatever about “Romantic Ireland”, Independent Ireland is definitely “dead and gone”. A political undertaker called Taoiseach Enda Kenny now appears to be standing over the tombstone with a shovel in his hands lest there be any retreat from our new national ethos of living to only “pray and save”.
The Government has escaped from this dangerous contest with a relatively unscathed hide. The future, however, will not be easy. In the immediate aftermath of his election triumph Mr Kenny famously noted one of our defining traits was that “Paddy likes to know the story”. The “story” this Government sold to a dubious “Paddy” last week was that a “Yes” would bring “investment, stability, recovery” and “a working Ireland”. But while, on this occasion, “Paddy” accepted, rather than believed, Enda's story; Mr Kenny and Europe must now make good on these promises or “Paddy” might not be so receptive the next time.