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Sunday 11 December 2016

Andrew Lynch: Historic Greek 'No' is blow to the EU - and to the Irish Left

Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives to make a statement in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015. Greeks overwhelmingly rejected conditions of a rescue package from creditors on Sunday, throwing the future of the country's euro zone membership into further doubt and deepening a standoff with lenders
Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis arrives to make a statement in Athens, Greece July 5, 2015. Greeks overwhelmingly rejected conditions of a rescue package from creditors on Sunday, throwing the future of the country's euro zone membership into further doubt and deepening a standoff with lenders

When the people of Greece went out to vote yesterday, doing Enda Kenny a favour was presumably not high up on their list of priorities.

By delivering a big 'Oxi' ('No') to the country's EU bailout deal, however, that is exactly what they may have done. Last night's sensational result means this Greek tragedy is set to run for at least a few more months - which is worrying for Syriza's Irish allies and therefore good news for their opponents in Government Buildings.

In other words, Sinn Fein should be careful what they wish for. Greece has essentially followed the advice given by Gerry Adams when he claimed that Ireland should tell its European creditors to "bugger off".

We are now about to see how the Shinners' hardball approach works in practice - and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that it will be a real horror show.

Alexis Tsipras has declared that this vote should give him the moral mandate to secure a write-down of his country's crippling debt. That is exactly what he claimed after his general election victory six months ago and it turned out to be dead wrong.

A far more likely scenario is that Angela Merkel will finally lose patience and order her EU colleagues to throw Greece out of the Euro altogether.

We have all heard the stories of Greek people eating out of bins, queuing up for hours at ATMs and being sent home from work because there is no money to pay them. If their emergency funding from Europe is cut off, those might seem like the good old days.

Tsipras would be forced to print huge amounts of banknotes to keep the public sector going, inflation would soar like a rocket and even the borders might have to close so that wealthier Greeks could not flee with their cash.

Why is all this so important for the future of Irish politics? The simple answer is that Sinn Fein are betting all their chips on being seen as a Celtic version of Syriza.

cautious

Tsipras has been a guest of the party in Dublin, he gave a shout-out to them on the night he was elected Prime Minister and their finance spokesman Pearse Doherty went to Athens over the weekend to campaign for a No vote.

Officially, then, Sinn Fein and their left-wing comrades such as Socialist Party TD Paul Murphy are on the winning side today. In terms of boosting support for the upcoming general election at home, however, their Mediterranean adventure is likely to end in tears.

No matter how much sympathy we might feel for the Greeks, most Irish voters are fundamentally cautious - and very few want to play a similar game of chicken that could also see our euro comfort blanket suddenly ripped away.

By the same token, Enda Kenny officially wanted a 'Nai' ('Yes') vote to destroy Syriza's credibility and get Greece back on track. In reality, yesterday's outcome suits him quite well.

It allows him to carry on arguing that his strategy was the right one, sucking up the austerity pain from Brussels and gradually nursing the country back to economic health.

Of course, there is more to life than the next election. Greece's mountain of debt includes €350m owed to Ireland, a big chunk of change we are now highly unlikely to ever see again.

Sinn Fein are all in favour of a Greek default on its loans, but they have never explained which Irish schools or hospitals should be closed to give Syriza a bit of a dig-out.

Looking at the bigger picture, Greece's ongoing nightmare is bad news for Ireland no matter which political party you support. It has already sent shockwaves across the global financial markets, which we rely on so badly for investment.

It will encourage British voters who want to leave the EU altogether, driving a wedge between us and our biggest trading partner. Above all, it proves that this is a union where strong countries always end up trampling over the weak - and all the talk about "solidarity with our European neighbours" is being exposed as waffle.

Alexis Tsipras has persuaded Greece to take a giant leap into the unknown. His Irish allies will have a much tougher time persuading us why we should jump after them.

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