Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Irish voters resigned to era of austerity

Dublin's Ha'penny Bridge over the River Liffey was thronged with commuters and tourists today as voters ushered in closer financial ties with Europe.

Migrants and their families, attracted to Ireland by a jobs boom which has receded into distant memory, hurried along crowded streets featuring an advert for the US work abroad visa, a permanent institution for many years on top of the Usit travel agent's on the corner of O'Connell Street.

Official figures covering the period from 1987 through to 2011, showed emigration from the Republic of Ireland has hit a record high as spending cuts hit employment.

Apathy was the overwhelming sentiment, with only half the registered population voting, but that belied the level of informed comment following a month-long campaign characterised by a bitter war of words between the yes and no camps.

There is also a sense of resignation about the future, with voters braced for many more years of tightened public spending, regardless of immediate political developments in domestic and troubled eurozone economies.

Michael O'Connor, 29, a software tester from Dublin awaiting a bus on the banks of the Liffey, has never voted.

"I think if we had voted no there might be more cutbacks and also if people had voted no there would have just been another vote until the people voted yes.

"I do not think the result will change much but we will be linked into Europe so there will be a much better chance of surviving the difficult times.

"Look what happened to Greece, if we don't handle our finances correctly we will just be kicked out of Europe."

Magda Wolinska, a Pole living in North Dublin, was standing close to the Veritas shop front on Abbey Street, near the famous Abbey Theatre and stocking religious candles, books and other Catholic accessories.

Ms Wolinska said: "I am pleased that Ireland has voted yes, I came here five years ago, I was made welcome, I think Irish people's best interests are with Europe.

"It is hard here, I know a lot of people who have gone home but I think we just need to wait and eventually things will become better."

Mark Forrester, 41, Ballyfermot, Dublin, a security guard waiting for a bus on Aston Quay, leaned casually against a wall around the corner from the General Post Office where Irish republicans rebelling against British rule in 1916 read their declaration of independence.

Commentators have suggested that one benefit of Europe was the ability to lessen Ireland's reliance on Britain's economy, fortifying its independence while benefiting from the influx of European funds for infrastructure like roads and helping to develop the country for decades past.

The UK is still Ireland's biggest trading partner. According to Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, two way trade in goods and services amounted to more than £42 billion in 2010, accounting for 5% of total UK two way trade.

Mr Forrester said: "I voted yes yesterday, things are so bad now they cannot get any worse so in for a penny in for a pound, it is a pity they did not bring it (the fiscal compact) out years ago. It is like defusing a bomb, now it is too little too late."

Shane O'Brien, 44, a civil servant from Donegal, was standing on the quayside waiting for a barber's shop to open. Barbers and cobblers are traditionally occupations which survive recessions and Dublin's citizens were looking as well-coiffed as ever.

He admitted lacking knowledge of the details of the fiscal pact but said that was a matter for the elected class.

"If it was good enough to vote in Fine Gael and Labour so it is better to trust them to run the country. They are elected so it is up to them to govern," he said.

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