My wakeup call on Irish sovereignty was the report that German politicians in Berlin were found, accidentally by visiting Irish parliamentarians, to be scrutinizing the details of the yet-to-be-released Irish national budget, this before anyone in Ireland had seen the budget.
Who put the Irish budget in German hands? Is this the behavior of a self-respecting sovereign state, or a conquered province?
As in the 1930s, the inherent instability of this capitalist system is asserting itself. But Ireland has special weaknesses, never overcome in the years since formal independence of the 26-county state and so making Ireland far frailer.
Raymond Crotty (1925-1994) was one of Ireland’s most original economic thinkers. A Kilkenny farmer who gave up farming to study political economy, Crotty embarked on a career as a UN development economist.
His work on Ireland addressed one fundamental question. Why is it that, since the Great Famine, Ireland has not been able to provide a living for half its people? Instead, they had to starve or emigrate.
He answered thus: the root cause was the economic legacy of the colonial era, preserved in post-colonial times in two main policies, the export of live cattle to Britain and keeping the link to sterling. These policies were in the interest of the two social classes, “Leinster big farmers” and Dublin bankers, that dominated the state in 1922-32.
Subsequent attempts under de Valera to build an independent Irish economy failed. The goal was given up. By the 1950s, Dublin business elites staked everything on luring inward investment by multinational companies by means of low taxes. Today, that long-term economic development strategy lies in ruins.
“The sins of the father are visited upon the heads of the children,” says a verse from the Book of Exodus. This means, of course, that people in the present pay for the blunders, crimes, and shortcomings of past generations.
So it is with the Irish economy. A brilliant new book by Irish writer Conor McCabe entitled “The Sins of the Father: Tracing the Decisions that Shaped the Irish Economy” (The History Press, Ireland, 2011) builds on the insights of Raymond Crotty. McCabe teases out the implications of the last four years of crisis and blunder.
He writes of business activities that dominated the Irish economy in the twentieth century: cattle exports to Britain and financial investment in London; the development of greenfield sites and construction of factories and office buildings to facilitate foreign industrial and commercial investment; the birth of the suburbs and subsequent housing booms predicated on an expanding urban workforce saw the development of indigenous moneyed class based around cattie, construction, and banking.
These sectional interests were able to control successive government policy, much to the detriment of the rest of the economy which had to rely on whatever scraps it could pick up from quasi-committed multinationals and government-funded grants and tax breaks. In 2008, the construction and banking sectors of that class closed ranks in order to protect themselves from oblivion, resulting in the bank guarantee and the creation of the National Asset Management Agency.
What should we do? Here’s a few tentative ideas: We must put the defense of Irish sovereignty on the agenda. Irish America has always campaigned on the national question. It must now expand its understanding of the national question.
This is no big leap. If the South foolishly takes steps towards a Eurozone fiscal union, accepting France and Germany as permanent overlords of every line in its budget, while the North remains with Britain inside the sterling area, it will aggravate the partition of Ireland.
It is not for Irish Americans to decide whether Ireland should remain in the Eurozone, or in the European Union itself, or whether it should repudiate its debt or not. On the other hand, it will do no harm for us to point out that brave little Iceland (population not a lot more than 300,000) repudiated its debt and is now in better shape by far than is Ireland.
On this side of the Atlantic, we have no power to overcome the deformities of the Irish economy unaddressed since 1922. That is a task for people in Ireland.
Our job is solidarity. With whom? Not the leaders of the parties represented in Government Buildings, Fine Gael and, alas, Labour (I regret to admit), and for sure the preceding government. They are all part of the problem, not part of the solution.
They have taught us who really runs Ireland, this being an “indigenous moneyed class based around cattie, construction, and banking,” which serves transnational corporate giants.
We may discover, however, many non-leadership individuals in these parties who can actually handle the truth.
We must show solidarity with Euro-critical forces in Ireland. The Republican Movement offers the best hope for carrying forward the national cause. If Irish America weighs in on sovereignty, it can help the best in Sinn Féin and other progressive forces in Ireland to reverse policies that have made a shambles of the country.
Republicanism stands for a genuinely independent united Irish state in which the people of Ireland decide policies democratically. People on the left, right, and center can support this objective.
We must educate ourselves, so we can educate the U.S. public.
The U.S. government – to which we pay taxes – is not guiltless in the economic bludgeoning of Ireland and its sentencing to a long stretch in debtor’s prison.
It is astonishing that there has been so little discussion of this. The “troika” that is imposing misery on the Irish people is the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. Treasury Department still controls the IMF. Don’t take my word for it but the American president gives speeches in which he declares, “I will direct the IMF to….”
The most important and urgent task is for the Irish people to reject the Fiscal Stability Treaty, the foulest assault on Irish freedom since the Act of Union in 1800.
Irish sovereignty will be at risk for years. Irish sovereignty, no abstraction, is what generations of valiant Irish patriots have labored for and shed blood for. It is what we all have worked for. Once it grasps the stakes, Irish America, I am sure, will rise to the occasion.