Category: Archive

New currency lives up to billing

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Stephen McKinley

DUBLIN — In the end, it was as smooth as a pint of stout. Europe’s changeover to the new single currency, the euro, took place with only minor hitches across the 12 member states on Jan. 1.

An enormous amount of preparation went into making the changeover hitch free, and Irish officials have hailed the changeover’s progress.

As the old currencies are phased out, 75 percent of cash transactions are now taking place in euros. Every time consumers spend old currency, it is taken out of circulation and change is given in euros. By the weekend, Central Bank officials predict that the euro will have overtaken the punt as the main currency.

Ireland’s taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, was up early on Jan. 1 to buy groceries with euros.

“It is going very well and very successfully after a lot of planning,” he said. “This helps bring a kind of a sense of justice to Europe, and that is what it is all about. It is sharing our identity and part of our sovereignty in the new currency,” he added after paying for some of his purchases with punts so that he could demonstrate that customers would receive change in euros, and then bought some more goods with his euros.

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People gathered outside Ireland’s Central Bank in Dublin from before dawn on Jan. 1 to get euros.

“We opened at 10 a.m., but people were gathering outside from 7:45, and the average wait for cash has been about one hour,” a spokesman for the bank said. Bank staff offered the public champagne, hot whiskey and hot drinks as they waited.

Some minor problems occurred in the days immediately after Jan. 1. It was reported that some pubs and bars were refusing euros because they had not prepared for the changeover. By the weekend, however, most establishments were euro-compatible.

This week, Allied Irish Bank admitted that about 1,400 customers who used cash machines in Ennis, Killorglin, Blackpool in Cork, Tipperary town and on Dame Street and Grafton Street in Dublin were charged for their withdrawals in pounds rather than euro. The bank said that the mistake would be rectified, and that customers’ accounts would be corrected.

In Austria on Jan. 1, all cash machines went out of action during the changeover and stayed off for two hours due to “a failure of the central computer’s memory system,” a spokesman said. And in the Netherlands, there has been a shortage of lower denomination euro bills in cash machines, but in general the problems have been minor.

Only in Italy have there been more than minor grumbles, where the foreign minister resigned over the lukewarm welcome that some of his colleagues gave the euro.

Philip Hamell, chairman of the Changeover Board of Ireland, said the introduction of notes and coins in the Republic was working well. The punt will remain legal tender until Feb. 9.

Ahern urged Northern Ireland and the UK to adopt the euro. Along with Sweden and Denmark, Britain has decided not to join the single currency.

Britain’s often anti-European press tried hard to find problems with the euro after Jan. 1, but many tabloid newspapers grudgingly admitted that the changeover had been mostly trouble-free.

In Dublin on Jan. 2, reporters noted that there were many Northern customers in town both for shopping and to try out the new currency. Meanwhile, north of the border, some banks said last week that they had quickly run out of their small reserves of euro notes and coins, indicating that people there had been changing money before heading across the border to shop. The new currency’s exchange rate versus sterling makes it attractive for Northern Irish and UK consumers to shop in the Republic.

But it remains to be seen how far the euro will permeate into Northern Ireland. Larger stores have announced that they will accept euros in payment for goods, including euro coins.

“If there’s a business reason for doing something, people are going to do it,” Hamell said.

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