Following on from yesterday’s post on misleading hyperbole about Greece choosing to leave the euro or being expelled from it, it was truly depressing to hear an Irish minister today raise the prospect of Ireland having to leave the Euro.
On RTE’s Saturday View program, Minister Eamon Ryan said the following in relation to Anglo Irish Bank:
It would be so nice if we could say we’ll let it go and that will be the end of that. The reality is … and that’s kind of Fine Gael’s position and what Labour seems to be saying. There are .. That means that we have to go and effectively say to the European Central Bank, who has a lot of money in deposit in Anglo, and say sorry we can’t pay you back. Now the European Central Bank, it hasn’t allowed a bank fail across Europe. So we would probably then have to leave the Euro. Now the risk of that, in terms of the tens of thousands of jobs that could leave this country because they’d say well Ireland is a riskier country to do business in, we don’t really want to do business there. That is what you’re talking about. So, it’s not easy, it’s not palatable but that’s the choice you’re faced with.
When RTE political reporter Brian Dowling then discussed the idea that there were alternative options to take, Minister Ryan confronted him saying “Do you think we should leave the Euro?”
I think that these are extremely unfortunate statements for an Irish government minister to make.
The facts are as follows.
1. Whatever happens with Anglo, Ireland will not be leaving the euro. Minister Ryan’s assertions that we would essentially be expelled from the Euro if an Irish bank failed to pay back the ECB are groundless. This is not just my opinion. An ECB legal working paper summarises this issue as follows: “while perhaps feasible through indirect means, a Member State’s expulsion from the EU or EMU, would be legally next to impossible.”
2. The ECB has always been aware that it could lose money from making loans to a bank that is then unable to pay it back. This is why its loans to banks are all collateralised, based on a well-developed list of eligible collateral. This list does not include development loans. While it is still possible for the ECB to lose money on its loans to a failing bank (if the collateral turns out not to be worth the value of the loan) there has never been any rule that such an event would result in the country the bank resided in having to leave the euro.
3. There are, in any case, options for dealing with Anglo’s insolvency that could save the taxpayer money without going as far as failing to repay its ECB loans. For instance, Anglo could be declared insolvent and its subordinated bondholders fail to be repaid, while the Irish government could choose to pay back other more senior creditors. There are serious issues to discuss here. The prospect of leaving the Euro is not one of them.
The bottom line here is that Minister Ryan’s statements about leaving the Euro are without foundation. However, it is perfectly possible that they could form the basis for unfounded speculation that Ireland is somehow on the verge of leaving the Euro. I would urge Minister Ryan to issue a clarifying statement correcting these assertions as soon as possible.
As we await perhaps the most momentous set of financial decisions ever taken by an Irish government, the consistent evidence that senior Ministers do not understand the banking situation is extremely worrying.