Letter from Korea, November 2010

Yongin, South Korea
November 19, 2010

Dear Ireland,

I’m writing this month’s letter on my birthday. Odd perhaps, but I felt that it’s an ideal time to share my thoughts and reflect on Ireland and Korea, especially since there is so much talk in the media about Ireland’s financial situation.

I hope that I can keep this letter focused on what I am familiar with and try to avoid the complications of the financial irregularity back in Ireland which I know very little about, and which I rely heavily on the opinions of others. These opinions arrive daily in my email inbox courtesy of some major dailies in Ireland, England and the U.S.

One comment stuck out for me, and to be honest I felt a little smug when I read it, but don’t ask me why. It was in the New York Times, and the article was reviewing the situation in Ireland from a relatively open-minded point of few, but at all times maintaining the seriousness of the situation. The paper stated that Ireland’s difficulty, which I read about daily (and hear the head politicos rabbit on in the same way), had overshadowed the G20 summit in Seoul.

If you’d been in Korea for the G20, and you’d lived here and gotten use to the lack of a visible police presence, among other things, then you would have plenty of remarks to pass on the fake reality of Korea’s presentation of itself during this event. But I suppose this is to be expected, any country would do the same.

The event was broadcast as Korea’s graduation party for entering successfully into the elite group of twenty global economies; it was a sign that Korea was a key world power and a force to be listened to. Which it is. It is the first Asian nation to hold a free-trade agreement with the E.U., it has an as of yet to be ratified free-trade agreement with the U.S., and it is a major source of finance, technology and support to the majority of south-east Asia; Korea is definitely heard in the same sentence regularly with its more powerful neighbours, Japan and China. But unfortunately, the talk of the town was what to do with broke Ireland; according to the New York Times anyway.

Now that I’ve done boasting about this, I want to focus on things a little more seriously. What’s caught me more than anything is the media’s interpretation of the event. I’m not going to go into specifics because it was more the overall language and atmosphere that the different newspapers created, rather than actually attacking and smashing Ireland for just doing its best … ish.

While few in Ireland have little confidence in the present government, there is little that can be done about it as they are the ones in charge for the time being. Fortunately for the government they have an upcoming budget that everyone in the country realises is vital to pass, if it is delayed the problems for the future could be far more catastrophic; a general election and an unfinanced year ahead. So despite a majority of one in the dail, they might be around at least until the new year. Still, to say we’d be proper fucked would be the understatement of this year and next.

The Guardian newspaper seemed to focus specifically on Ireland and accuse it of being one of the reasons for the UK’s current problems. There seemed to be an awful amount of focusing on what reports were saying, as opposed to the established facts that the government released recently; Ireland will be effectively financed up to 2014 if the budget is passed. In fact the Guardian hardly mentioned the upcoming budget. It seemed to create the impression that Ireland was fucked and didn’t stand a chance. There wasn’t much of an analysis in their front pages about what the reasons for this problem were.

The New York Times didn’t do much of a better job but it seemed to focus on the facts that the Irish economy was a problem but that it was a problem of the banks, and not a problem of the economy, which was robust and equipped enough to survive. Then the newspaper slipped into the rest of the scaremongering that sells newspapers and detracts people’s attention from their own domestic foulplay, much like The Guardian.

Then there was the Irish Times. Despite how positive the newspaper may be about the government’s ability to solve our problems, there was an incredible amount of positive reporting on our crisis. Yes, our crisis. Fortunately the Irish Times had the sense to remind the good and bad people of Ireland that Ireland, while broke and under the hand of a bunch of cowboys long past their sell-by-date, is a vibrant and stable democracy:

We have vibrant IT industries with vast potential, driven by bright, innovative people. We have huge opportunities in renewable energies, offering us the potential to become significant net energy exporters. We have a world-beating agricultural base, with wonderful food manufacturing and agribusiness possibilities, again driven by people with vision, energy and imagination.

Eighty-five per cent of the workforce goes out to its employment each day. Our high-end exports are strong and rising. Notwithstanding the shambles of the native banks, we have a developed expertise in financial services management. We have a tourism industry that is currently languishing but where we have invaluable expertise and a product that can be reinvented and remarketed.

And we have a stable, working democracy, with solid institutions that can and will absorb whatever stresses and strains may be thrown up. Ominous warnings about political instability and the collapse of the Irish Government (from newspapers that traditionally have been no great friends of Ireland) may convey suggestions of constitutional crisis and barricades in the streets.

This is nonsense. If the Government falls, a new Dáil will be elected and it will form another government. The civil servants and the Garda and the various State services will continue their work. The traffic lights will change, the shelves in the supermarkets will not be empty and the trains will continue to run.

Irish Times November 16, 2010                  

It’s only because of this article and a few others (thanks Eamonn MacKee, Irish Ambassador, for your always informative and honest background to the situation in your regular mail this afternoon), that I and I hope many others can hope for a solution to emerge. If it’s any consolation, apparently we won’t get a bailout, just a loan to help balance the books, or something else. Much remains to be seen.

If there is any sense of the situation to be read, I called my old man back in Funduckinboyne the other day to see how he was coping. He was out in the back garden chopping down bushes; we laughed and talked about how useless the government is, and that, despite the problems, Ireland is in a pretty sure state. A ould nod and wink, sure we’ll be alright, I think it’s a common Irish outlook.

Although with a different perspective than previous economic situations; before we had nothing to lose, now we have everything we’ve worked hard to achieve. Let me finish with a quotation from the Irish ambassador to Seoul’s regular update, it’s best served with a pinch of salt bit one that we should all take into account no matter where we are:

“I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property – until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered” – Thomas Jefferson, 1812.

 ***

If anything, Koreans recognise the seriousness of the Irish situation. Although I can’t get much of an appraisal of the situation, I imagine they hold their breaths everytime they here IMF and wish us the very best of luck, if that’s possible in a situation like this.

Sorry for stealing your show Seoul, we’ll give it back when we’re out of this hole.

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