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Interview 'People have had enough, debt write-down is the only solution now' - Nick Webb

Do our politicians have it in them to say no more, asks writer and journalist, Nick Webb, who gives his ideas on what should be top of the politician’s to-do list.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore warned that failure to strike a deal with the ECB on the promissory note would have a “potentially catastrophic effect on Ireland”, while Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar has admitted the negotiations are facing difficulties. The Government wants to push the repayments out for decades, allowing Ireland to issue a long-term government bond to replace the promissory notes given to the former Anglo Irish Bank. Reports that the ECB had rejected Ireland’s proposal for a longer repayment schedule has been disputed by Mr Varakdar. Speaking to, author and journalist, Nick Webb, said the only option for Ireland is debt write down. He says:

NOTHING HAS REALLY changed and people are looking for answers – now. The promissory note is the big thing for this year, which is due to be paid up in March. It seems to be obvious at this point, that we would say: “No, that’s enough now. No more.”

But I’m not sure our politicians have it in them. You get these photos coming back from our boys in Europe, with Angela Merkel squeezing Enda’s cheek or Sarkozy tapping Enda on the head, and it actually suggests and makes us look like we are just mad. From the outside looking in, one would think they are just sitting there accepting everything that is being thrown at them, no questions asked, but I think people just have to say enough is enough.


The politicians promised in the last election that they would stamp out cronyism in politics, but I think they have succeeded in actually raising the bar – even more so than the last lot. Within a matter of days of taking office, they plonked people into top jobs on boards, and they haven’t really let up since. They have put people into state boards and re-instated key Fine Gael key players to top jobs, so those last election promises were never going to happen. It’s kind of like boiling a frog, you start to turn up the heat and soon you realise that you’re cooked.

The issue of pensions and salaries should be high on their list for this year. This government has the biggest majority than any other major party in Europe at the moment – if they wanted they could be a dictatorship, they can do whatever they want, they are not going to topple over stuff. There are key issues that are really annoying the ordinary people out there at the moment, like the bankers’ pensions, the public bodies’ executive pay, the fact that some ex-Anglo employees are still getting paid over €200,000 and that some employees in bailed-out state banks are earning huge salaries.

The Government’s answer always seems to be that they are powerless to do anything about it. But, hang on a minute: that is actually their job. Their job is to legislate. They have to pull the finger out and do something about this now. We had a successful referendum on judges’ pay, which was protected in the constitution, and we changed it. Why not put down a bunch of referenda and get it all done in one day?

Lying down

It is constantly being asked – why are the Irish people taking it lying down? We are just taking it and given our history, it’s quite a remarkable thing. I think something will trigger it this year, I think there is a limit to how much hardship we can take as a nation. The last budget, I think, is the one that will get people to start standing up – but this is not going to be our last. I think after this one we have another two at least. The forecast for growth in the economy has downgraded, so it is not going to be enough, they are going to have to keep cutting. There seems to be no end. This year is going it be something else – what left is there to cut? Are we going to close all the hospitals and all the schools next?

You go down the pub and this is all people are talking about. People are getting more and more upset, day by day. Whether its Richie Boucher telling committees to go shove it, or the bankers pensions’ – people just want solutions. This has been going on a long time.

A big, fat debt write-off is the only solution. You can play around with parking the promissory note or negotiating on the interest, but the only thing that will actually work, that won’t knock us back to to the stone age, is a really comprehensive deal on the debt. Parking the promissory note for a while is not going to solve it, it needs to be more comprehensive than that.

Nick Webb is a journalist and author, who co-wrote the books, Wasters and The Untouchables, with Shane Ross, Independent TD (published by Penguin). Last year he also took part in the Four Angry Men debate with Fintan O’Toole, David McWilliams and Shane Ross with Olivia O’Leary, in which they examined the current crisis and discussed where we should go from here.

Column: What would it take for Ireland to escape the Anglo promissory note?>

Interview: ‘Ireland’s EU Presidency will make no difference’ – Shane Ross>

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