For many the detail about the pressure which was widely reported to have been applied by the ECB for Ireland to enter the 2010 Troika bailout has coloured their understanding of the original blanket guarantee. The extent of the guarantee and the large sums being poured into our failed banks ensured that a bailout would be required. It was hardly a coincidence that the bailout occurred in the months after the blanket guarantee ran out on the 29th of September 2010.
The ECB’s insistence that the promissory note for Anglo Irish Bank and other unsecured unguaranteed bonds should be paid have led people to think that it was ECB pressure that led to the 2008 – 2010 guarantee in the first place. I have tried over the previous posts to unravel this myth and show that it was an Irish decision alone put in place for very local reasons. In fact, the ECB warned the Irish government that under Maastrict (where the cost of borrowing is dependent on maintaining a good credit rating in the financial markets) the guarantee could cause substantial funding problems for the sovereign. Other events disprove it, including the fact that an attempt by the Greek government to also bring in an unlimited guarantee immediately after the Irish made their announcement was rescinded due to pressure from EU Commission. Neelie Kroes, EU competition commissioner at the time said “A guarantee without limits is not allowed”.
Of course, the myth has its own political uses and it’s not surprising that there has been very little examination to date of the guarantee. But even any future Public Accounts Committee examination and its ‘who said what in the room on the night’ scope will not provide much clarity. Looked at from the perspective of class and power, however, examining the guarantee reveals much about how both work in Ireland. Such a focus would not fixate on the technical detail of whether dated subordinated bonds should have been included, or whether Dermot Desmond was there behind the curtain throwing his voice in to the mouth of Brian Cowen. Instead, the focus should be on the decisions made in the context of how the Irish government behaved in the past when other Irish financial institutions went into freefall. We tend to see 2008 as a rupture, but in terms of understanding why certain decisions are made it’s more useful to examine the continuities. After all, this was not the first time that Ireland provided a blank cheque for Irish banks.