EUropean union going faced a new problem. Ireland — Families ripped apart, pay cuts, hundreds of thousands without work, homes lying empty, teenagers with little hope for the future: Many in Ireland have been brought to the brink of despair by a dramatic economic collapse and the harsh remedy prescribed by the European Union.But unique among the EU’s 27 members, Irish voters were Thursday giving their verdict on the policies of austerity as a backlash grows across the continent in countries like Greece, Spain and France.
Both sides in the debate are playing the politics of fear. Ireland’s coalition government and much of the establishment implore voters to agree to tight controls on the national debt — contained in the “Fiscal Stability Treaty” — warning that failing to do so would result in the EU refusing to provide any further bailout cash.The “no” campaign counters this is just scaremongering — saying Ireland would not be cut adrift in time of need — but engage in some of their own. Austerity will only lead to countless more years of hardship, they say, calling for policies to grow the economy.
Polls put the “yes” campaign ahead, but both sides agree it will be close.Joe Kenny, 59, a former sergeant in the Irish army, is among those planning to vote no. “The country is on its knees … austerity is not working,” he told msnbc.com, as he stood in front of the abandoned barracks where he was once based in Kildare, about 30 miles west of Dublin.
He believes that the fiscal treaty will give too much control of Ireland’s future to the EU’s leading nations, particularly economic powerhouse Germany.
“They own us now. We’ve no control, no sovereignty, nothing,” he said. “Angela Merkel [Germany's top lawmaker] … put a little moustache on her and she’s Hitler.”
It is a comparison others have made, however unfairly, but Kenny has reason to be angry. “My son is going to have to emigrate … All our best are going to Australia or America,” he said.
Economic crisis sparks brain drain
His carpenter son Tony Kenny, 27, said business was “drying up,” but was stoical about moving overseas, as generations of Irish have done before him.
“I suppose it has to be done, doesn’t it?” said Kenny, who is married with two young daughters. “A few mates of mine are over in Perth [Western Australia]. The work is savage over there, they are booming. It would get me on my feet anyway.”Ireland’s economy was once growing so fast it was dubbed the “Celtic Tiger.” But the property bubble burst, the banks were thrown into crisis, the government got deep into debt spending billions to bail them out. Ordinary Irish people are now paying the price.
New taxes — including a Universal Social Charge paid by all citizens — have been brought in and more are on the way, such as a new charge on water.
According to the latest figures, the standardized unemployment rate was 14.3 percent — about 430,000 people — compared to just 4.5 percent in April 2007. Henry Healy, a distant cousin of Barack Obama, recently joined their ranks, according to a report on Tuesday.
Signs of the economic collapse are all around with boarded up buildings and half-finished neighborhoods, particularly in the Dublin commuter-belt, which includes County Kildare.
The brick pillars at the entrance to the Coneyboro Estate in Athy, south of Kildare town, have a certain air of grandeur. But deeper into the neighborhood, it becomes clear something went badly wrong. Near-completed houses are empty, windows open, fireplaces ripped out. Weeds grow in the street and foundations lie unfinished.