Dublin's hapless rulers should learn from past Norman and English invasions—and marry their daughters to the IMFby Julian Gough / December 15, 2010 / Leave a comment
Cromwell: better or worse than the IMF?
For more on Ireland in this month’s Prospect click here
Contrary to the impression you might take from news reports, we are living in a golden age of Irish financial management. Ireland’s people are not starving to death. This is a huge improvement on British rule, and a considerable advance on previous Fianna Fáil administrations. But let us not grow complacent. Ireland holds elections in 2011; here’s some advice for the next government.
First, remember most Irish aren’t that interested in money; we’re not grasping, we’re flaithiúil—extravagant, motivated by the grand gesture. People won’t mind being broke as long as the country is an interesting place to live. But politicians in grey suits talking in a monotone about bond yields—it’s depressing. It’s not us. If we’re to survive this invasion by the EU-IMF, we must get back to our roots.
Ireland has had good and bad invasions. The Normans were (like the IMF) invited in by the Irish chieftains whom they soon swept away. They were welcomed, bless them, because they treated people far better than the incompetent, hereditary Celtic chieftains. The Normans learned Irish, married the Irish, and became “more Irish than the Irish themselves.” Clearly, the next government must marry its children off to the men and women of the IMF and ECB right away.
The consequences of not Irishing an invader can be severe. When the English next invaded, under the Tudors and then Cromwell, the reformation meant we could no longer marry them. So they slaughtered our leaders, which was fair enough, but also took 95 per cent of our land, banned our religion, destroyed our language, window-and-chimney-taxed us into dark mud bunkers, and killed millions by sword and famine. Now, that’s loss of sovereignty. It took us quite a while to win it back. If we want to keep it this time, we must learn from British best practice, as exemplified by Humphrey Gilbert in my own Tipperary. Having slaughtered as many locals as he could, he’d invite the surviving chieftains to negotiate in his tent, which they had to approach between rows of stakes on which their relatives’ severed heads were impaled. This technique helped him capture 28 castles without artillery; it would certainly persuade Anglo-Irish’s senior bondholders to take a haircut.
Should we establish a closed or an open economy? Well, we’ve tried both. In the 1930s, under Éamon DeValera, Ireland started an economic war with her only trading partner, Britain. As Ireland was still pre-industrial, and 80 per cent of agricultural trade was with Britain, the rural economy instantly collapsed and the countryside was reduced to anarchy and barter. What useful lessons can be drawn from this? Er, don’t do it.
Though it must be said, in DeValera’s favour, that it was an improvement on British economic policy in Ireland. Ireland’s most exuberant experiment in laissez-faire economics came under the Whig government of Lord John Russell. He came to power just as we entered our third year of famine. There was no subsidy, no debt forgiveness, no bailout. The free market was allowed to sort it out. It did just that—by starving over 1m to death, and driving another 1m into exile. Problem is, democracy has made this robust approach trickier. It’s hard to get some 2m people to vote for their own deaths, even in these austere times.
Whatever its approach, the next government will need stability. Jockeying for leadership among coalition partners is lethal. Celtic chieftains, on becoming king, often dealt with potential leadership challenges by ordering the castration and blinding of their brothers. (This excellent system would have swiftly resolved the Miliband problem.)
It won’t be easy, negotiating with bondholders under the mournful gaze of their relatives’ severed heads, as the cries of castrated and blinded party leaders ring out, while our children shag the IMF and we all starve to death. But, as history has shown, these are the only reasonable solutions to the problems that confront Ireland. And at least life will be interesting again.
More on Ireland in this month’s magazine:
John Murray Brown investigates who is to blame for the Irish financial crisis
Colin Murphy on Irish migration