Irish eyes need to be vigilant as punt disappears

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The Independent Online

Although the Irish have a reputation as a particularly nationalistic people, it does not extend as far as the punt. In sharp contrast to the British attachment to sterling, citizens of the Irish Republic are in the process of bidding farewell to their currency not with a wrench but with something close to a shrug.

Although the Irish have a reputation as a particularly nationalistic people, it does not extend as far as the punt. In sharp contrast to the British attachment to sterling, citizens of the Irish Republic are in the process of bidding farewell to their currency not with a wrench but with something close to a shrug.

Perhaps the biggest worry is that the punt is the only currency involved in the switch that is worth more than the euro. This means that prices will appear to go up, generating suspicions of surreptitious overcharging. Consumer groups have urged shoppers to be vigilant.

The change will also have religious implications. Parts of the Catholic church, which is already strapped for cash, worry that its takings will plummet if Mass-goers take to dropping a euro into the collection box instead of one, more valuable, punt.

Church authorities have been urging priests to spread the gospel that the faithful should not be lessening their contributions. The church's financial message is, in fact, that it would welcome contributions of two euros rather than one, thus increasing the amount donated.

The general antipathy to the change is partly due to Ireland's strongly pro-European sentiment. It is also because the Irish see themselves as an international people, so well-travelled that dealing in sterling, US dollars and continental currencies is pretty much second nature.

Rather than being loaded with political meaning, the switch to the euro in the New Year is viewed in Dublin in terms of coping with the practicalities; the old may have problems with the new currency and some businesses may quietly but unfairly round up their prices.

Suspicions have been aired that paramilitary groups, criminals and smugglers, three groups that often overlap, will attempt to take illegal advantage of the currency switch. Already, some gangs are said to be furiously trying to launder their old money.

Ordinary folk are also trying to get rid of undeclared money. Large amounts of mattress money have been making an appearance in recent months as stashes are spent in the shops. Some of it has been held for so many years that the notes are now vintage.

Those with modest amounts have been using cash to buy televisions, hi-fis and fridges. Those with more substantial hoards have been snapping up items such as Georgian silver, believing such transactions are untraceable and therefore untaxable.

The impending change has been trumpeted in extensive television and newspaper advertising, to the point that no one could be unaware of the 1 January changeover. The publicity has been such that many feel Ireland will be among the best-prepared countries for the euro's arrival.

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