Limited sympathy for Greeks on wet streets of Dublin
(DUBLIN) - As Irish voters braved the rain Thursday to decide on a key EU fiscal pact, there was a sense of resignation that voting "yes" in the referendum was the only sensible choice -- even if it meant more belt-tightening.
Like its troubled European cousin Greece, Ireland is struggling under austerity measures it had to impose to receive a massive bailout by the European Union and International Monetary Fund in 2010.
But while Ireland has stuck to its tax rises and spending cuts, Greece's future in the eurozone hangs in the balance after this month's inconclusive elections and gains by an anti-austerity leftist party.
On the sodden streets of Dublin, sympathy for the Greeks -- who hold a second crucial election in just over two weeks' time -- is tempered by a sense that, like the Irish, they should just grin and bear the pain.
"I think Greece is probably having a tougher time of it than Ireland, and you can see why their people are passionate and angry," said Jennifer Williams, pausing outside one polling station in the Irish capital after casting a "yes" vote in the referendum.
"But I do think we're doing our homework slightly better than them. We deserve a gold star," she told AFP.
She believes signing up to the EU fiscal pact would provide a more stable business environment for her marketing company.
Final pre-referendum opinion polls suggested that around 60 percent of Irish voters have grudgingly come to the same conclusion -- backing a pact with belt-tightening and fiscal responsibility at its core.
Williams's fellow "yes" voter Finbar McDonnell said there was a general acceptance in Ireland that "we got into trouble, and we need to get out of it."
"There's a lot of anger in Greece and I don't think they see any light at the end of the tunnel," added McDonnell, who works in the property sector.
"I think here that's different. We do see some potential light at the end of the tunnel, so maybe it's easier for us to be responsible."
Nick Daly, an academic who also backed the treaty, said the Irish public acknowledges that the Greeks are having a "tough time" and feels a degree of comradeship because "we're another small country, easily pushed around."
"We're in slightly less dire circumstances than Greece," he added. "But I'm a bit surprised that more people here aren't taking to the streets, to be honest.
"Maybe it's because Greece has a more recent history of violent political change -- people are more in touch there with their 'inner rioter'," he suggested.
As the colourful "no" vote posters fluttering from Dublin's lampposts show, anger against the austerity measures in Ireland is far from non-existent.
The "no" camp has been quick to label the fiscal pact an "austerity treaty" as it ultimately empowers the EU to fine countries that overspend.
Among "no" voters, sympathy for the Greeks was higher.
"The Greeks are ordinary people like us," said Daithi Doolan, a political adviser to Sinn Fein, the main party opposing the pact.
"The problem's been that the eurozone's been a disaster for Greece, and it's a pending disaster for Ireland as well," said Doolan, sporting a bright green and yellow "no" sticker on his bag as he went to cast his vote.
He added: "From the French election to the Greek election, people are voting for anti-austerity parties. You can't starve yourself out of a famine."
Taxi driver David Eustace agreed. "The Greeks created a lot of their own problems, but I feel a lot of sympathy for them," he said.
Eustace said he had voted "a big, juicy 'no'" to send a signal to the government that entering the euro had been a mistake for Ireland.
He also voiced a commonly-heard resentment -- that the EU is too dominated by German concerns to slash countries' debts.
"The Germans don't care about us," he said as he drove, his wipers working at full-speed to clear the rain from his windscreen. "When Germany says jump, we say how high."
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