Socialist Worker

Irish banks are smiling

by Simon Basketter
Issue No. 2121

The collapse of Irish bank shares on Monday panicked the Irish government into announcing that they will guarantee the debt of at least six banks.

The headlines have been about the guarantees of people's savings but something more fundamental and dodgy is going on.

The deal is a useful indication of how bailing out the banks causes as many problems as it solves, while transferring money from the public to the bankers.

So in Britain there is a flurry of stories about the lack of protection for depositors in banks compared to that in Ireland. But in Britain almost 50 percent of households have either no savings at all or savings of less than £1,500 guaranteeing banks is simply yet another way of transferring public money to the rich.

The details of the Irish deal show how. Irish banks get about a third of their funds by borrowing from foreign banks. What precipitated the crisis on Monday was that overseas banks stopped lending to them.

The Irish housing boom was focused far more heavily than in Britain on building development. That construction boom has shuddered to a halt. Ireland was the first country in Europe to officially go into recession last week and unemployment is rising fast.

Irish banks are currently owed €110 billion (£87 billion) by builders and developers. Of every €100 that Irish residents have deposited in banks, €60 has been lent for property speculation.

In particular, very little of the €25 billion lent to builders to construct the new estates and apartment blocks – that will now not be sold – will be paid back.

To put these numbers in perspective, €20 billion is twice the market value of Bank of Ireland shares; while €100 billion is the approximate value of all public deposits with Irish retail banks.

Between them, the Irish banks owe their depositors, other banks and bondholders almost €400 billion. That's more than twice the value of Ireland's total annual economic output and 10 times the total Irish national debt.

The Irish government has guaranteed the banks without knowing the full scale of their debts. Everything the banks say about the debts they possess is been taken on trust.

By insuring the borrowing of banks with toxic assets the Irish government has taken up where the collapsed US insurer AIG left off. It was by guaranteeing to cover any losses to institutions that lent to client banks, what was called monoline insurance, that the world's largest insurance company went bankrupt.

The most likely scenario is that the Irish banks will now bundle their bad debts and sell them backed by a guarantee from the Irish government. When the debt isn't repaid the Irish government will have to pay the bill.

The end of the Irish boom has not seen the end of pay restraint or government's backing the rich and indeed will likely lead to more attacks on the public sector.

Finally, in this context, it is worth noting the protection for depositors is a red herring, of course each bank wants as much money going into their coffers rather than their rivals. In a climate of panic there will be a flow of rich individuals putting their spare cash into Irish Banks but this will be no where enough to cover the toxic debts the Irish government has just guaranteed.

Other EU banks are complaining about not getting the same deal as the Irish not because they are that worried about savings accounts but they see the scam the banks have pulled off.

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Thu 2 Oct 2008, 14:09 BST
Issue No. 2121
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