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Saturday 16 December 2017

Dan White: Greek euro exit could be massive boost for Ireland

Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses a news conference after a European Union leaders summit in Brussels
Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras addresses a news conference after a European Union leaders summit in Brussels

Late night showdowns in Brussels between Eurozone finance ministers have left Greece on the brink of being ejected from the single currency.

While the country has until the end of this month to agree an extension of its current EU/IMF bailout, the odds on Greece being the first member to leave the euro are rapidly shortening.

So, being utterly parochial, what does 'Grexit' mean for us here in Ireland?

Would it mean the end of civilisation as we know it, or could some of the consequences of a Greek departure from the euro actually be quite positive for this country?

Unlike many other commentators, I have long been pretty relaxed about the likely consequences of Grexit.

In fact, far from being a bad thing, we may already be seeing some of the benefits.

Ever since it became clear late last year that the conservative Greek government was about to fall and that the hard-left Syriza party was going to win the general election that followed, the value of the euro against other currencies has been falling on the foreign exchange markets.

While that may be bad news for any Irish person visiting the United States or Britain, it is great news for Irish exporters who sell most of their goods and services to dollar and sterling customers.

It's also fantastic news for the tourist industry as holidays in Ireland are now much, much cheaper for American and British visitors.

Grexit, or more likely a fudge followed by continuing uncertainty, is just what the doctor ordered to keep the euro weak on the foreign exchange markets and prevent the Eurozone from slipping into outright deflation - something that would further exacerbate the European economic crisis.

So the new Greek government may succeed in doing what the ECB has failed to do - force down the value of the euro and push up Eurozone inflation as dearer imports from outside the single currency zone push up prices in euro.

This is exactly what the Eurozone economy desperately needs if it is ever to emerge from its post-2007 slump.

But what if the new Greek government, led by Alexis Tsipras, goes all the way and pulls Greece out of the euro, or as is more likely, is ejected from the single currency?

Surely the consequences of Grexit, which would almost certainly be a disorderly process, would be extremely negative for this country?

Don't believe a word of it. There is an old saying in the aviation industry: If you think safety is expensive try having an accident.

I suspect the Eurozone is facing a similar dilemma.

If the Germans stick to their guns and force Greece out of the euro the resulting turmoil will almost certainly curb their enthusiasm for any further ejections.

Which of course represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for this country.

We still have some unfinished business with the EU/ECB/IMF Troika from our controversial 2010 bailout.

As part of the 2010 deal we were forced to repay Irish bank bondholders in full.

This was despite the fact that many of these bank bonds had been sold on to speculators at huge discounts in anticipation of major haircuts.

The speculators' gain was the Irish taxpayers' loss with €64bn of public money being pumped into the banks - money which our grandchildren will still be repaying decades from now.

With the memory of Grexit still fresh, the Government would be able to press our European "partners" to right this wrong, in particular the €32bn which went into Anglo Irish and Irish Nationwide.

This has been funded by the issue of government-guaranteed promissory notes, which are currently held by the Central Bank but are supposed to be sold to private investors in the fullness of time.

We should do no such thing. Now that the Greeks have shown the way, we should tear up the promissory notes...and let the Germans do their damnedest.

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