The key dynamic of the current Irish economic situation is that Irish governments keep adopting positions in relation to banking and fiscal matters but then abandon these positions because “the ECB won’t agree.” We are told that we have little choice but go along with the ECB because the Irish banks are borrowing so much money from them and, apparently, they keep threatening to pull the plug on the Irish banking system if we don’t do what they want.
This position is neatly encapsulated in this statement yesterday by Catherine Day, secretary-general of the European Commission:
However, she held out little hope of bondholders sharing the burden of Ireland’s debt. “This is primarily for the ECB to decide. They are providing the liquidity to keep Irish banks going and they have all the means to prevail with their arguments.”
Ok then, let’s envisage a scenario where the Irish government does something that the ECB doesn’t want and then the ECB decides to pull funding from the Irish banks.
At this point, the Irish banks would not be able to come up with the money to pay back the ECB. The ECB could claim the collateral that has been pledged for these loans but would have great fun trying to flog over €100 billion of dodgy eligible collateral, including wonderful stuff like NAMA bonds and own-use bonds. It would be hard to figure out how much the ECB would receive for this stuff but I’d bet they’d make pretty serious losses.
Meanwhile the Irish banks would be bust, with all their good assets gone and deposits flying out the window. The Greek and Portuguese banking systems would also be well on the way to meltdown too, as people tried to figure out when the ECB was willing to support peripheral banking systems and when it would not. Sovereign debt markets would most likely go berserk.
What part of this scenario would the ECB really be willing to put up with? If you don’t think they’d be happy with it, then perhaps they don’t really have “all the means to prevail” and perhaps our governments should stop being so scared.
At a minimum, I think Enda Kenny should come out and be clear about exactly what it is that the ECB is threatening and why he is so scared of it. Such a move might have positive effect of getting the ECB to explain whether it is indeed the case that they keep threatening to destroy the Irish banking system and, if so, why.