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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 14:03 GMT 15:03 UK
Analysis: Irish keen for UK to join up

By James Helm
BBC correspondent in Dublin

Hapenny bridge, Dublin
People in Dublin are now used to the euro
The most remarkable thing about the arrival of the euro here in Ireland last year was just how unremarkable the changeover was.

The prophets of doom had forecast crashes, complaints and cashpoint nightmares. None of it happened.

There were a few minor glitches, but Irish people got rid of their old notes and coins much more quickly than expected.

The changeover board in Dublin was pleasantly surprised by how well it all went.

The crisp euro notes and gleaming coins arrived, and the old punts slipped away into history. There was some nostalgia, but no real, mass opposition to the change.

Now Ireland's nearest neighbour is facing the crunch. Should Britain join?

Airport ease

Ask any of the thousands of Irish people leaving for Britain from Dublin airport or one of its ferry ports each day, and the answer would mostly be "Yes".

It would cut out the need to queue at the airport to change money, and pay commission charges, or having to remember to fish out your sterling notes from a kitchen drawer before setting off.

Britain joining the eurozone would certainly make things easier for staff on the Enterprise train from Dublin to Belfast.

On board you see the practical effects of having two currencies on one island.

When you buy breakfast the waitress politely asks if you'd like to pay in euro or sterling, and then whips out her calculator to work out the resulting price.

'We're alright'

One regular business traveller to Britain told me: "Changing currency and working out comparative costs is a real pain in the neck. It would be great if Britain joined - it would make life a lot easier."

If you do the good old (but ultimately meaningless) taxi driver test, as I have, and ask a Dublin driver whether Britain should join a single currency you often get one of the following answers: "I don't care - we're doing fine thanks", or "You'll never join, you love that old sterling too much".

In a country that has traditionally done so well from EU membership, there is little mass euroscepticism of the sort you see in Britain.

The blue EU flag flies everywhere, and public projects, such as road-building, display the emblem too.

As one senior economist described it, Ireland embraced EU membership so gladly partly as a way of breaking the troubled, historic link with Britain.

Export market

But there are also economic reasons why the Irish are following the debate in the United Kingdom, and why many here hope their neighbour will join the euro club.

The UK is Ireland's main export market. The United States is next on the list.

Trading with both countries is hugely important to the Irish economy, which has grown so rapidly in the last decade, but which is now cooling down.

The theory was that Ireland's euro membership - in fact any nation's membership - would provide less exchange rate volatility, a vital factor for businesses trying to survive in competitive markets and plan ahead.

Dan McLoughlin, chief economist at the Bank Of Ireland, says: "That hasn't happened, because so much of our trade is with sterling and the dollar.

From a selfish perspective, it would be in the best interests of the Irish economy for Britain to join the euro."

The Irish example, admittedly in a much smaller, more Euro-friendly nation, is a lesson to the UK in how any currency changeover could be smoothly managed.

Whatever Britain eventually decides, its neighbour across the Irish Sea will be watching closely.




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