Churches rally round the punt

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GOD came to the defence of the Irish punt yesterday as His earthly representatives attacked speculation against the currency as 'unbelievably immoral'. But the threat of divine retribution did not deter the markets from keeping up the pressure, writes Robert Chote.

The assault on Mammon was led by Walton Empey, the Church of Ireland Bishop of Meath. He attacked companies and wealthy individuals for making millions by holding Ireland to ransom: 'The love of money is palpably at the root of all this.' The Catholic Bishop of Meath, Michael Smith, said: 'This activity damages the country's future and is at the expense of the common good. It cannot be condoned and is contrary to any Christian principle.'

The episcopal interventions follow renewed speculation that the Irish currency may be devalued or pulled out of the European exchange rate mechanism altogether.

The punt's latest troubles were triggered by sterling's fall following the cut in British base rates on Tuesday. That has made it more difficult for Irish companies to sell to Britain - the destination for a third of the country's exports.

The Employment Minister, Ruairi Quinn, offered a prayer to the Bundesbank, the ERM's financial deity: 'I believe the Germans could extend to us the same cover that they have extended to the French franc.'

Industry and trade unions have urged a U-turn. Despite the bishops' comments, currency analysts expect the coalition government to yield soon.