European Debt Crisis

Parish priest in Ireland reflects on country’s bailout

Jeremy Hobson Mar 6, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: Greece has been at the center of the European debt crisis recently. But it’s worth remembering that Ireland is also trying to climb out of debt trouble after being bailed out back in 2010.

When that bailout happened, we spoke with Father Iggy O’Donovan, the parish priest in the town of Drogheda. And we are happy to welcome him back right now. Good morning.

Iggy O’Donovan: Good morning.

Hobson: Well, last time we talked, here is what you said:

O’Donovan: We had a mighty party; we have the mother of all hangovers now.

So have you gotten over the hangover in Ireland yet?

O’Donovan: I still think we’ve got a touch of the hangover. Ireland came through about 15 years of what was called the “Celtic Tiger.” So we came from an all mighty party, if you like; the thing came to a shuddering halt. But, of course, since we spoke, our friends from the IMF and the European Central Bank and others have arrived and in effect, Ireland is now being run from Berlin.

Hobson: And when you say the “Celtic Tiger,” you’re talking about the big boom that Ireland experienced.

O’Donovan: That was the expression that was coined for the “Celtic Tiger.” Nowadays, we are talking more about the “Celtic Snail.”

Hobson: Now, Ireland has had to go through what are called austerity measures — big time budget cuts and tax increases. What’s that been like for the people who lived there?

O’Donovan: It’s been tough. The ECB has arrived; the IMF have arrived. And they have simply been all over the place — swinging budget cuts, cutbacks in all the major spending departments, particularly in the fields of social welfare, education, health. Some very, very many people are feeling the pain. Many people are pointing out that as far as the ECB and the IMF are concerned, we’re the good boys in the class; we have done what we were told.

If you’ve noticed on your TV screens, the Greeks took to the streets. The best the Irish did was that they kicked out the government. In many ways, it’s part of the strength of the democracy that most people were happy to leave it at that, and there hasn’t been any social unrest or problems of that sort.

Hobson: Do you wish you weren’t in the euro? Do you think it would’ve been easier if you just left the euro?

O’Donovan: We would have had much more control over our affairs. For example, because of the policies followed by the European Central Bank, cheap money became available in a massive way from the Germans and the French — who were disciplined themselves, but they gave it. If you like, they threw whisky at the alcoholics — and by God, did we drink it.

Hobson: You know, your sermons must be fantastic.

O’Donovan: Well, I’d like to think so — but I also like to look at the bright side. It has been a massive surgical operation, carried out on a patient who thought he was in good health. But, while we’re in the intensive care unit, I think we may be just about off life support.

Hobson: Father Iggy O’Donovan is our man in Ireland, joining us from Drogheda today. Thanks so much.

O’Donovan: God bless. Thank you very much.

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