Posted By: January 28, 2015

Brian Feeney. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, January 28, 2015.

THE results of the Greek election are critically important for Sinn Féin’s prospects
in the Republic. Here’s why.

Sinn Féin has been developing connections with anti-austerity parties in mainland
Europe whose policies are similar to Sinn Féin’s, most notably Syriza and Podemos in
Spain which polls now show to be the most popular party in that country. Last
Thursday Gerry Adams sent Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras good wishes for the election.
By Sunday Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty was sending congratulations.

What politicians love to say is ‘the only poll that counts’ made Syriza the
governing party in Greece on Monday and Tsipras prime minister.

Doherty said that Tsipras’s election offered “a real change for Greeks and an
opportunity for progressive change in Europe”. A European debt conference “would
also be in Ireland’s interests”, he said.

Following Syriza’s policy Sinn Féin have been asking Enda Kenny to call a debt
conference. His reply to Adams last week was ‘No.’ Speaking in Davos Kenny said of
Syriza demands, “when you sign on for a debt write-down in terms of the bail-out and
the advantages [the Greeks] have got, there are conditions that have to be applied.”

The question now is, will Kenny be eating his words? The next three months will be a
nervous time for the Fine Gael-Labour coalition. The centre and right-wing parties
in the EU have been rubbishing Alexis Tsipras’s proposals in exactly the same way as
Fine Gael pooh-poohs Sinn Féin’s economic policies.

Now, suppose Tsipras manages to renegotiate the terms of Greece’s bail-out which in
effect would mean writing off a whack of Greece’s immense debt, then why could a
Sinn Féin-led left wing government not do the same for the Republic? After all, the
Republic received much less than the mind-blowing €240 billion Greece got.

It looks as if Tsipras is going for it. One of his first statements after winning
the  election was” “The troika is a thing of the past.” If he can bypass the troika
(the IMF, ECB and EU commission) which forced crushing austerity on Greece and
Ireland and Spain and have a debt conference called, then a deal will be worked out
which will reduce Greece’s crippling debt and keep the country in the euro.

The notion of a debt conference is based on the 1953 London conference involving a
score of countries which wrote down debt in West Germany owed from reparations for
World War I and subsequent American loans.

The total was 32 billion marks which was reduced by 50 per cent and extended over 30

However, repayments would only be required when West Germany had a trade surplus.
The last instalment of €69.9 million was paid in October 2010. Loose change in
Chancellor Merkel’s handbag by then.

What drove the London Debt Agreement was the fear that continued austerity and
poverty in post-war West Germany would drive people to vote for left-wing parties
including the communists and there might be an action replay of the inter-war years
in Germany.

Can Tsipras pull it off? Would Merkel and the hardliners in German finance agree a
deal on Greek debt to avoid a swing to anti-austerity parties across the EU? Or
would agreeing a write-down of Greek debt only encourage people to vote for
anti-austerity parties?

For Sinn Féin and the Irish government there’s not much time to find out. The danger
for Kenny is his forelock-tugging tendency to be the best boy in the debt-ridden

The hard line he took at Davos may leave him behind the curve making his abject
loyalty to the troika’s demands misplaced.

On the other hand if Tsipras fails then Sinn Féin’s policy is in tatters because
Syriza will have shown that anti-austerity policies are castles in the air even if
you win an election.

The likelihood is that there will be a deal mainly to keep Greece in the euro and
the EU but it obviously won’t be complete victory for Syriza.

Nevertheless it will be enough for Tsipras to claim he won concessions which the
previous government could have gained if they had not caved in to the demands of the
troika. How will the compliant Kenny and Noonan answer that charge?