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Ireland's boom ends – with a vengeance

Protests and anger grow as 'Celtic Tiger's' economy takes nosedive.

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It’s not just the police who are restless. The march follows a demonstration several days earlier of more than 120,000 public-and private-sector workers who demanded an end to austerity measures.

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A massive public transport strike was recently called off just before a major rugby game was scheduled with England, but other major public-and private-sector unions are set to vote on possible strikes in coming days and weeks.

Leftist parties gain wide support

The financial sector, meanwhile, lurches from scandal to scandal. The government promised to guarantee all deposits in Irish banks, but public confidence did not return. Anglo Irish Bank, a key player during the Celtic Tiger years, was recently taken into government ownership amid an €87 million loans debacle.

Ireland’s two largest financial institutions, Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Banks, have been recapitalized with
€7 billion, angering many, who object to being told to tighten their belts while public money is poured into banks.

Speaking to the senate last week, Independent Sen. Shane Ross said that the country stands at a precipice: “Nobody should be in any doubt that billions of euro left this country for overseas destinations last week. Presumably billions of euro are still leaving as panic is beginning to occur in the money and currency markets.”

The crisis is pointing to a realignment of Irish politics. While some countries, notably Britain, are concerned about a shift to the hard right, Ireland seems to be experiencing the opposite: Ireland’s Labor Party has experienced a rise in popularity, with the latest polls showing a record rise to 24 percent support.

Sinn Féin, the socialist-leaning republican party with links to the now disarmed IRA, is also expecting to capitalize on the discontent: “The recession in Ireland has highlighted the folly of the right-wing policies implemented by successive Fianna Fáil governments,” says Irish Parliament member Arthur Morgan, who is also Sinn Féin’s finance spokesman.

Speaking at the party’s annual conference on Saturday, leader Gerry Adams called for Irish politics to realign leftward to defeat what he described as the corruption of Fianna Fáil.

Ruling party clings to power

The turmoil is not going unnoticed in government circles. Speaking on Irish radio last week, Green Party leader and environment minister John Gormley said he would not rule out the crisis measure of an all-party government of national unity, but he added that he thought the move would be unlikely at this stage.

An emergency budget accompanied by a call to patriotism and “national duty,” rushed through by the government in October 2008, was met with fury. Austerity measures, such as cuts to Ireland’s multiyear project to improve its aging infrastructure, and the removal of the right to free medical care for all citizens over age 75, were met with public outcry.