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EDITIONS
Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 17:39 GMT
Irish consumers confront the euro
Dublin
Ireland is the only country where the euro is smaller than the local currency
by Louise Williams in Dublin

There has never been a strong sense of an independent national monetary policy in Ireland.

For 50 years following independence in the 1920s, Irish monetary policy followed the Bank of England, until Ireland joined the EU in 1974.

Since then the value of the Irish currency, the punt has been largely influenced by the German Bundesbank.

So while some Irish people are nostalgic about losing the images of wildlife that decorate Irish coins, sentiment isn't running high over the loss of independent monetary policy.

Euro campaign

'Think Euro - The Change is in Your Pocket' Information campaigns on the radio, television, on the sides of buses and in leaflets have been stepped up in the lead-up to the launch of the euro.

The first campaign at the beginning of the year focused on bringing the basic conversion rates to the attention of the public.

Now the government-sponsored campaign has been stepped up to encourage consumers to help each other to cope with the change-over to the euro.

In one advertisement, an elderly woman refuses to return a football that came over her garden wall to a local boy, until they study the euro conversion table together.

Advertising blitz

Private companies are also taking responsibility for their own information campaigns. As well as printing their bills in euros and punts, household service providers like telephone and gas companies are sending out euro conversion tables to all of their customers.

Shoppers are becoming more aware of the advent of the euro too, as products increasingly are rounded up to a price in euros, rather than punts.

So a Dublin pizzeria is already offering pizzas for 8 Euros or IR£6.30, and a mobile phone provider is offering a prize for 2,500 euros, or IR £1,968 in its latest competition.

Market traders adjust

For stallholders in Dublin's food markets, the introduction of the euro means re-calculating their special offers.

For example, instead of offering 4 cauliflowers for a punt, they are adjusting their prices to offer 3 cauliflowers for one euro.

The food markets are noisy places where stallholders compete to shout out their prices, and several sellers admit to feeling self-conscious about shouting out prices in euros rather than punts.

Suspicions persist

Consumers remain suspicious of the apparent price rise when the punt is converted in euros.

This is because, uniquely in the eurozone, the unit price for the euro in Ireland is larger than the price in punts.

For example, the price of a pint of Guinness will appear to rise, as the unit price goes up from IR £2.60, to 3 euros.

There are concerns in Ireland that consumers will experience this apparent price rise as inflation, and be more reluctant to spend money once the euro comes into force.

Dual pricing

Supermarket chains and retail stores began their preparation earlier this year and most are well prepared with large signs displaying dual prices, in euros and punts. Receipts print out the total in both euros and punts, although individual items are still only marked in punts and pence.

But outside of Ireland's cities, in small town Ireland, preparations for the change-over are taking longer.

In a wool shop spotted in the west of Ireland recently, hand-written price tags in pounds had faded in the sun and there was no sign of a euro symbol in the display.

Many of these small shops are run by older Irish people, some of them were in business in 1972, when decimalisation was introduced to the country.

Having lived through that changeover 30 years ago, they may well prove to be better equipped to cope with the introduction of the euro than many of Ireland's younger consumers.


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