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Tuesday, 8 January, 2002, 15:13 GMT
Ireland's smooth changeover
The Irish Prime Minister celebrated his first euro purchase
The Irish PM celebrated his first euro purchase
By Louise Williams in Dublin

Thanks to three years of preparation by Ireland's Euro Changeover Board and broad support from politicians, the transition to the euro has gone fairly smoothly in Ireland.

Taoiseach Bertie Ahern made his first purchase using euros surrounded by photographers down at his corner shop in Dublin on 1 January - three pears and a pint of milk.

Long queues at the central bank for europhiles
Long queue at the central bank on New Year's Day
There was a surprise welcome for people queuing up at the Central Bank in the early morning of New Year's day to change their Irish pounds for euros - they were served with champagne, hot whiskey and tea and coffee by Central Bank staff as they waited.

But bank robbers only waited one day before helping themselves to the newly-issued currency. On 2 January, two banks in Tipperary and Limerick lost their reserves of euro in armed raids.

Forgeries

And it was only a question of days before the first forgeries came to the surface too.

Eleanor Flegg: getting to grips with euros
The first was a rough photocopy of a euro note, but the second forgery almost took detectives in, as it was some time before they were able to confirm that the note was in fact real, although it had changed appearance slightly because it had got wet before it was used in a transaction.

The office of the Director of Consumer Affairs in Ireland has received some complaints, mostly about certain pubs which weren't accepting Irish coins.

And there have been extra delays at some supermarkets, hotels and toll booths which have set up a separate euro conversion counter which requires customers to queue twice before carrying out their transaction.

Swift changeover

But broadly speaking, the changeover to the euro has been very successful in Ireland.

Figures show that the euro is being used in more transactions that expected, and take-up is a week ahead of the plans laid out by the Central Bank.

But in the weeks before 1 January, consumer spending was above average,althought banks noted that withdrawals were down over 50%.

Analysts talked of 'mattress money' - cash that Irish consumers had been storing under the mattress or in jam jars, rather than bank accounts, that would now be worthless.

Given the fast take-up of the euro in Ireland, it seems that getting the mattress money out of the way last year was the key to opening the way for a smooth transition to the new currency.


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