Irish Bailout Sparks Anger On The Emerald Isle

The Irish government has finally agreed to a bailout from the IMF and the EU, but the fact that the country even needed international aid has angered many people there. They are angry that the government let Irish banks overextend themselves, then promised to rescue them with billions of euros of Irish taxpayers' money. Many of Ireland's 4.5 million people are also angry that their long struggle for independence from Britain in the last century will now culminate in a loss of economic sovereignty. This anger is being expressed through biting satire, music and Guinness.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

The Irish government has finally given in to international pressure and agreed to a bailout to help cover its massive debt. Prime Minister Brian Cowen says he will call an early election in January, after his government presents a new austerity budget.

It's unclear whether the money will calm markets across Europe, saving Portugal and Spain from needing the same help. What is clear is that the Irish people consider this a humiliating reversal of their country's long, slow rise out of poverty.

And as NPR's Philip Reeves reports, they are struggling with one overriding emotion.

PHILIP REEVES: The Irish are angry. Theyre angry because their once-booming nation must now to compromise its sovereignty by signing on to a massive EU bailout. Theyre angry with their banks for recklessly running up huge debts by investing in a property bubble.

Theyre even angrier with the politicians who led them to this point and especially Irelands prime minister Brian Cowen.

(Soundbite of political protest)

Unidentified Group: (Chanting) Cowen, Cowen, Cowen, out, out, out, out

REEVES: Protestors gathered outside parliament in Dublin today, calling for Cowens resignation. They made their feelings very clear.

(Soundbite of whistle)

(Soundbite of shouting)

Talk to almost anyone in Ireland these days, and youll find anger. Youll find indignation too and sometimes shame. The Irish are dealing with these emotions their way.

Mr. PADDY CULLIVAN (Satirist): Yes, there's Brian Cowen, ladies and gentlemen, there's Brian Cowen. Brian Cowen is there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

REEVES: A giant picture of the Prime Minister Cowens rotund face hangs inside a pub in Dublin. In front of it stands a throng of drinkers medicating their anger with Guinness and satire. Theyre listening to a man called Paddy Cullivan.

Mr. CULLIVAN: I think the most criminal thing about all of this is that the government played with people's optimism. They played with their aspirational desires to do better, to get better after hundreds of years of being a pauper state.

So these are songs with names like "Going Forward," or "(unintelligible) Ruining Ourselves," or "We're Living Way Beyond Our Means."

The crime is lack of knowledge. If they didn't know what the regulators were doing, if they didn't know what the banks were doing, they should have known. Irish people are funny. They will always say things like: Ah, now, leave him alone, sure isn't he a nice fellow altogether. We do not put people in jail. We do not victimize a leader because of how we remember him. Now you can say anything about them.

Do you know who A.J. Chopra is? He's the man from the IMF, not having any fun. There's no one there because they've all left the country.

Oh, lots of Irish are leaving. That's the problem. And the youngest ones are. We'll be the lost generation. Like people in their 30s and late 30s, we got involved economically in the boom. We bought our first house maybe four years ago, but we bought it at a huge premium. And so we're the ones who are stuck here. We can't even leave. This is the thing. Young people can leave.

REEVES: Cullivans comedy is out there. He's rude and sometimes eye-wateringly caustic. He explores the fine line between humor and rage, and sometimes rage wins.

Mr. CULLIVAN: (Singing) It used to be our country when we had the means, and we had a ball. Now it's your country. It's your country, now it's worth (BEEP)-all.

Mr. CULLIVAN: My big problem is that we all owe an incredible amount of money personally and as a country. And that's going to lead to terrible things because when we didn't have any money and went through recessions, we just had a little bit less.

Mr. CULLIVAN: (Singing) We are where we are. It's just corporate speak...

Mr. CULLIVAN: I'm not into the optimism business, but I am into the satire business, and if we can laugh at how stupid we are, possibly we don't allow stupid people to run things again because they'll be laughable.

REEVES: The show ends. The drinkers pour out of the pub into the cold Dublin streets and head home. This was comedy night, but it was also about real and painful issues in Ireland, issues that directly impact the life of another performer this night: stage name, Ding Dong Denny OReilly; real name Paul Woodfull. He has three small children.

Mr. PAUL WOODFULL (Writer): We've had to negotiate a reduction in our mortgage for five months, and so we are one of those people that could be thrown out, so I am personally very angry about the situation.

REEVES: Ding Dongs been wondering how long the Irish can carry on joking about the way their countrys been turned upside down.

Mr. WOODFULL: You kind wonder is there a tipping point where Ireland will go crazy, and when it does go crazy, maybe it'll go crazier than everywhere else because certainly we have a history of doing that.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News.

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