Friday, 13 July 2012
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív:
I welcome the publication of the Bill but, as Deputy Stanton said, it requires major amendment. It represents a very complex and bureaucratic approach to everyday lives. We must first recognise the impact of omitting the bankruptcy option, which pertains to the big and the few. Most ordinary people in debt want simple solutions that are not overly bureaucratic. They want to get on with their lives.
The Government has not been very proactive on the debt issue. This response seems very much controlled by the banks. The reality is that debt worries are affecting many people. Debt is probably the main issue holding back recovery. More important, it is causing untold misery and hardship. We must ask ourselves how many people who have committed suicide in the past four years did so because of debt worries.
The second point we should consider when examining people’s response to debt is that if individuals, particularly those at whom this Bill is aimed, really understood all the rules well, they would not really worry as much as those who did not seek any advice. One would realise that in existing law, there are a large number of remedies, particularly in respect of small debt. Therefore, we need to reach out to these people and remove the shame associated with their debt. We need to tell people that indebtedness can be experienced by anybody.
At a time in which we have done great work on reducing the number of road deaths, we must ask how many suicides have been caused in recent years because of debt worries. How many relationships and marriages have broken up because of debt? For human, social and economic reasons, we need to address this.
Full Speech at:
Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Monday, June 25, 2012
Opening Remarks by Éamon Ó Cuív-Fianna Fáil Education Policy Conference, Galway Bay Hotel, Salthill, Galway on 23 June 2012
I would first like to welcome you all here to Galway and hope that we have a fruitful conference. I would like to thank the Party Leader Micheál Martin TD and my colleague Brendan Smith TD for organising this Conference.
It was Thomas Davis, the Irish Patriot who said, ‘educate, that you may be free’. Rarely in Irish history has a truer thing been said and education has been to the fore in the renaissance in Ireland over the last 150 years.
When we look at the disaster of the famine in the 1840’s and the amazing recovery of the Irish people both at home and abroad in the following 50 years, you have to ask yourself, why? Is there any comparable case where a nation lost to so many millions to death and starvation and poverty and saw so many others emigrate, and despite all of this made such an incredible comeback, entirely from its own resources.
Equally, abroad, the success of the Irish in the New World is particularly striking and the families of people who immigrated in dire poverty made it up through the social classes very rapidly.
I have often puzzled over this question and the answer I have come up with is that there was a thirst for learning amongst the Irish people that had been retained throughout all of the centuries from the time that St. Patrick came to Ireland and the first Monasteries were set up.
This constant theme of learning was very central to Irish society, as were the bardic schools, right up to the fall of the Gaelic order. What we tend to overlook now is the extraordinary feat in terms of third level education of the Irish people after the fall of Limerick. During the penal times instead of becoming a non-educated people, the Irish nation sustained many third level Colleges on the continent, in places such as Louvain, Salamanca, Paris, Rome, etc. These ensured a constant stream, not only of priests but also of educated people coming back to Ireland, operating through the hedge schools and ensuring that the flame of learning never died in our country. I believe that it was this interest in learning that enabled the Irish people to pick themselves up so rapidly at home and abroad, after the famine. Due credit also must be given to the role that the Church played in setting up education establishments in the Nineteenth century, not only in Ireland but also throughout the world.
There is no doubt also that the success of Ireland in the twentieth century was due in so small part to the interest by the ordinary people of the country in education, and also to the opportunities in education given by successive Fianna Fáil Governments. This is particularly evident with the establishment in the sixties of the free education system, the free education transport system and also much better access to third level.
In looking at the success of the education system, it is important to look at those circumstances, both community and family, that best encourages a thirst for knowledge amongst young people. I have long believed that no matter how much we invest in education, unless we can continue to encourage an interest in education amongst people of all classes, as the way to progress, a lot of our investment will go to waste. A constant theme of mine has been the preservation of that which is working, along with new approaches where the system is failing. Every analysis shows that the success of young people coming from schools in rural Ireland is equivalent to that of middle class Ireland and is at a very high level indeed. Instead of trying to destroy this system of inter-action between community, parents and school, that has been the hallmark of a rural education system, we should be trying to strengthen it and strengthen in particular, its links with the community.
I am delighted that we will be discussing today how we can have strong small schools into the future. I know that this is of great concern to many who are here.
In our disadvantaged urban areas, we face different challenges. We often have schools where we have put in a lot of resources, but where we are not getting the results we would expect. This has to be tackled in a multi-faceted way and in particular there is need to ensure early intervention in communities that do not have as high a traditional value on education as other communities. It is said that a child from a disadvantaged background is at a serious disadvantage before they go to school. I would accept this and I believe therefore that in particular when we talk about early and affordable education, we must focus on those who will likely fail in the education system, no matter how much we put into it, if there is not early intervention.
During our time in Government Fianna Fáil was behind the building of St. Ultan’s School, in Cherry Orchard in Dublin. This is an example of absolute best practice, where you literally have everything from the crèche, to the pre-school, to the after-school and the primary school itself on the same campus.
If we are serious about tackling disadvantage we must prioritise our most vulnerable children by continue investment in schools in disadvantaged areas. The targeted cuts to these supports made by this Government are not only unfair, but they are extremely short-sighted.
I am pleased that we will begin today’s discussions with the problems of youth mental health and the challenges it poses us. Many more people die in Ireland each year from suicide as compared to road accidents. This is something we need to focus on and it is something we need to develop, a scientific and considered response too. I hope today’s Conference provides us with pointers to the future and example of best practice.
Finally, I would like to say that we often spend a lot of time in this country discussing the past and the mistakes of the past. I believe it is very important to study the past and to learn from it, but to focus on how we can create a better future by developing new policies and new approaches to old problems.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Reply published in the Irish Times on 4th June to a recent article by Sean Byrne
Freagra foilsithe ar 4ú Meitheamh san Irish Times maidir le alt le Seán Byrne
As somebody who comes from Dublin 4 and lives in the country, I believe that all citizens should be treated equally as far as possible and that all communities should be developed in a sustainable way. I must take issue with the recent article by Sean Byrne which seeks the demise of rural Ireland.
Mr Byrne seems to think that all PAYE workers live in towns and cities and that all rural people are farmers. With approximately a million and a half people living in rural Ireland most rural workers are in fact PAYE workers. The total number of farmers in rural Ireland is about one hundred and twenty thousand and many of these are part-time farmers with PAYE jobs as well and they are assessed for tax on the joint income from farming and employment.
In relation to the protests in rural Ireland against the proposals of the Government regarding septic tanks, the situation is quite simple. For those who have a mains waste water service, the State provides for the provision, upgrade and maintenance of these systems, with over €4 billion being spent by the exchequer on municipal waste water systems since 1990. People who provide their own waste water services have traditionally paid for the provision, upgrade and maintenance of their systems. The system is very heavily weighted in favour of those with main waste water systems, compared to those living in the countryside who are dependent on septic tanks and other private waste water systems. What was objected to in rural Ireland is that those who have provided their own systems would have to pay a registration charge and also for the upgrade of their systems when this is provided out of general taxation in the rest of the country.
There is also no evidence that rural living poses greater costs on society. In fact the opposite is probably the case, as in many instances rural communities provide services for themselves that in urban communities are provided at the cost of the taxpayer.
In relation to pollution in Ireland, all EPA reports indicate that the primary source of pollution in Ireland is municipal waste water systems serving our towns and cities and not the farming community.
Regarding the perennial question of one off houses, there is no objective evidence that one off houses are the least environmentally sustainable form of housing. In fact with the development of new technology, one off houses are likely to become the most sustainable form of housing as micro generation will not only provide energy for the houses and allow for the export of energy to the grid, but will in the very near future power the transport needed by rural people.
In fact the greatest cost in terms of education and health services when measured against outputs is poverty and deprivation. Objective evidence shows that the areas of highest deprivation in the country are socio-segregated deprived urban areas, such as the RAPID areas in our cities.
It is for that reason that I have been a strong proponent of giving extra resources to these urban areas irrespective of the cost and also of ensuring social integration in our towns and cities.
I would ask Sean Byrne to provide evidence that rural people attend hospital on average more than urban people. Again evidence shows that those from the lower socio-economic group, whether urban or rural and those who are unemployed, tend to go to the doctor more often, take more medicine and go the hospital more often and also die younger. This is irrespective of whether people are living in urban or rural areas.
Finally, we come to the nub of Sean Byrne’s argument, which is that all people must live in urban areas as he believes that only densely populated communities can be economically provided with services from the planet’s dwindling resources. I believe, in fact, that urban communities are very important, but that there should be a balance between rural and urban communities and that the most expensive community to serve is a dying rural community with a decreasing population where you have to provide all the services for less and less people. Rather than perpetuate the rural urban divide, I believe it should be a matter within reason of individual choice whether to live in urban or rural Ireland and that basic services should be available to all our citizens. I do not believe that this will impose any significant extra cost on the taxpayer, when all the social and economic consequences and costs are taken into account of moving 1.5 million people out of rural Ireland into urban settings, closing down all of the schools, the health centres and all of the other facilities and rebuilding them in urban areas.
I feel it is time now for us to develop an Irish vision for Ireland, that sees that Ireland would be a lot better from a cultural and social point of view and that our quality of life would be better in so many ways if we were to continue to have a good balance between our urban and rural populations and maintain the rich diversity of Irish society.
Éamon Ó Cuív, TD.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Statement by Éamon Ó Cuív 8/5/2012
Ráiteas ó Éamon O Cuív 8/5/2012
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh libh as ucht teacht ar an bpreas-ócáid seo ina léireoidh mé an cinneadh atá tógtha agam tar éis an phlé a bhí agam leis an bpríomh-aoire Seán Ó Fearghaíl le seachtain anuas. Ba mhaith liom buíochas faoi leith a ghlacadh le Seán as ucht a chineáltais agus a thuiscint i gcaitheamh an ama seo. Bhí cinneadh crua le tógáil agam thar an deireadh seachtaine agus is le croí trom a thóg mé an cinneadh atá le fógairt agam inniu. Ní raibh aon rogha éascaí ann agus tá súil agam in am tráth go bhfeicfear gur thóg mé an cinneadh ceart.
At this stage my views on the current referendum campaign are well known. My intention from the outset was to share my deeply felt concerns with the public about the direction of the EU and Ireland’s position in relation to it. It is important at all times that we have robust debate on major issues and examine their long term implications. In this context there is no doubt that, despite the conceptual merits of the EURO, in hindsight, our decision to join a badly designed and poorly constructed monetary union has cost Ireland dearly.
I also spoke out against this referendum to provide a mainstream and practical alternative viewpoint to the incessant determinism that informs people that they do not have a choice. The weekend’s events in France and Greece have shown that the peoples of Europe do not necessarily agree that the current approach to the Union’s economic difficulties is the only one. The European Union was founded as a union of free nations and was constructed in such a way as to preserve, through the provision of the veto, the rights of small nations. It was never intended by the founders of the Union that nations would have to make decisions based on a threat. I am concerned by the failure of our Government to protect our vital national interests in these negotiations. Furthermore I have, during the course of this debate also become concerned at the tacit acceptance by a large number of politicians and commentators of a fundamental recalibration of our relationship with other European states. The new reality seems to be that larger member states can now originate and dictate policy and proceed irrespective of the wishes of other nations; and that a nation’s influence in the European Union is now in direct proportion to the size its economy. Perhaps this finds its ultimate expression in the fact that the Government welcomes a possible re-negotiation of the Fiscal Compact by the new French president, while insisting that we the Irish people could never make such a demand.
My recent actions were not, contrary to ill-informed speculation in the national media, an elaborate strategy designed for political gain. If the leadership of Fianna Fáil was my aim, I surely would have been better served by remaining silent on this issue and working to secure the necessary support of party colleagues rather than opposing their collective position.
The other reason given in the media for my stand is that I am afraid I will lose my seat in the next general election. As the first elected TD in Galway West, in the worst ever election for Fianna Fáil, it would seem very early to be getting nervous!
It is another example of how some people cannot accept the simple truth which is that I sincerely believe in what I have said and written over the last few months. I believe with all my heart and mind that to pass this referendum would be a mistake and that it would signify our acceptance, as a people, of sole financial responsibility for the recklessness of European and Irish banks in Ireland.
As reported, I met with Seán Ó Fearghaíl, the party whip, last week to discuss the public airing of my views on the forthcoming referendum and how that might interact with the campaign by Fianna Fáil for a YES vote. As people are aware I have lost the positions I held as Deputy-Leader and front bench spokesman for my beliefs and I am now the only back-bench TD in the party. I have in this role continued to work diligently on behalf of Fianna Fáil attending meetings and events around the country, speaking frequently in the Dáil and developing policy papers.
Following subsequent discussions between the party leader and the whip, I received a letter from the whip, on behalf of the party leader, instructing me that “any media exposure advocating a No vote between now and Referendum Day cannot be presumed to be anything other than “campaigning”. There is nothing in our party’s rules or history which would allow a senior member to participate in campaigning against the party’s agreed policy”. The impact of this letter is clear and is a clear instruction to desist from airing my views in any way on this subject.
Following receipt of this letter I reflected over the long weekend on this turn of events. On the one hand I see this referendum as having far reaching and long term implications for Ireland and the EU, particularly for small countries. On the other, I have always believed that the only way to make a sustained impact in politics, over a long period, is as a member of a political party, particularly a party such as Fianna Fáil with a large membership around the country.
This has been one of the most difficult decisions of my political career. After careful consideration of the situation I believe that the best contribution I can make is as a member of Fianna Fáil. In arriving at this decision I was heavily influenced by the advice of many likeminded Fianna Fáil members and supporters from around the country and particularly from within my own constituency, who urged me to work for change from within Fianna Fáil
I will therefore continue to work from within to restore the party to its original ethos of representing all classes and creeds in Ireland bound by the common purpose of working for the good of all the Irish people as opposed to any sectional interest.
There has been speculation in recent times as to whether I would ever join another party. I would like to make it clear once and for all that I see no party other than Fianna Fáil, for all its faults, that represents my political views.
As a result of my decision I will therefore not be making any further pronouncements in the media on the referendum nor taking part in any further media debate as per the instruction of the leadership of the party.
Finally I would ask the electorate to study carefully the long and short term implications of this referendum and to realise that they are privileged amongst the people of Europe to have a constitution that gives each citizen individually the right as stated in Bunreacht na hÉireann “in final appeal, to decide all questions of national policy, according to the requirements of the common good.”
I will respect fully whatever decision the people make.
Má tá ceist ar bith le cur orm beidh mé sásta iad a fhreagairt ach amháin nach mbeidh mé ag déanamh aon ráiteas eile i leith an reifrinn i líne leis an treoir atá faighte agam ó cheannaire an pháirtí. Tá cóip den ráiteas seo ar fáil anois ar mo bhlog nó ar mo shuíomh idir-líon ag www.eamonocuiv.ie
If you have any questions you wish to ask me I will be willing to answer them except that I will not be making any further comment on the referendum in line with the instruction from the party leader. A copy of this statement is available now on my blog or on my website at www.eamonocuiv.ie
Cóip do litir a fuair mé ó Fhianna Fáil
Copy of a letter I received from Fianna Fail.
4th May, 2012.
Mr. Éamon Ó Cuív, T.D.
Thank you for the time you gave me yesterday to discuss the Referendum situation. Following our meeting, I met with the Leader and discussed your position. He agreed to your request that we write to you, with details of what is expected of you as a member of the parliamentary party for the duration of the referendum campaign. I fully accept your assurance that you want this to be constructive and I acknowledge the co-operation that you have given me throughout.
As the Leader has said to you at every stage, you are fully entitled to your personal opinions on policy issues, as is every member of the party. Unlike the position on any referendum for the past 50 years, Oireachtas party members had a say before our position was decided. Following the recent successful Ard Fheis any observer will have to admit that Fianna Fáil welcomes and encourages debate. It was there that you got full support for your policy positions on issues such as the registration of septic tanks. The value of your campaigning work on behalf of the Party across the country is recognised and acknowledged by all.
In relation to this referendum the parliamentary party reached a decision. Your views were expressed at the parliamentary party, have been expressed in public, and are now well known. Your right to express your personal view is respected, however, we are a party not just a collection of individuals.
Each of us signed a pledge when we accepted the Fianna Fáil nomination in the last election and we agreed to clear and long established parliamentary party rules about respecting party policy. It is not feasible for individual party members to campaign as they wish irrespective of the parliamentary party’s formally adopted position, and in our party’s history there is no example of the party agreeing to a member spending a lengthy period publicly campaigning against party policy. I accept that you have never indicated an intention to undertake “a campaign”, however, any media exposure advocating a No Vote between now and Referendum Day cannot be presumed to be anything other than “campaigning”.
There is nothing in the party’s rules or history which would allow a senior member to participate in campaigning against the party’s agreed policy. The party needs to be allowed to put its position to the people without being confronted at every turn by a challenge from within the party. While there are a handful of examples of TDs disagreeing with the party's position on a referendum there is no example, that I can recall, of a TD doing so over an extended period and after their views were made public. You know that our membership requires us to be coherent.
As was shown on Tuesday night’s TV3 debate, the party’s position on Europe is a strong one and we can take the fight to the other side. What the members of our party want above all is for us to show the public that we are working together in as cohesive a way as possible.
Our position is in line with the policy established within the party for over 50 years, asserted under seven leaders and supported consistently at Árd Fheiseanna and every other level of the party. We all worked together to get the Lisbon treaty passed in October 2009.
As was seen yesterday at our party press conference, the continued participation of a senior member of the party in speaking against the agreed party position directly undermines the party's ability to actually put its position. By some margin the majority of the questions and coverage of our stance has ignored our case and focused on your own position.
I think we need to put this controversy aside, respect the party’s rules and traditions and move on to the wider and more important challenge of showing how Fianna Fáil offers a credible alternative to this government. You have a very valuable role to play in this process.
Very best wishes
Seán Ó Fearghaíl, T.D.
Fianna Fáil Whip
Thursday, April 19, 2012
Ginmhilleadh: Dhá Saol, Rogha Amháin
Abortion: Two Lives and One Choice
Here is the content of the speech I delivered to Dáil Éireann on Wednesday the 18th of April 2012 on the Medical Treatment (Termination of Pregnancy in Case of Risk to Life of Pregnant Woman) Bill 2012 sponsored by the Socialist Party which sought to legalise abortion in certain circumstances.
We will probably not discuss a more emotive issue during the lifetime of this Government. This is a very difficult issue because it goes to the core of what people believe on two levels. First, most people generally believe human life should be preserved. Second, when does the human life we seek to protect start? This goes to the core of humanistic beliefs. We all believe in born people’s right to life and we have had many debates about protecting our children. We always want to protect their lives and protect them from harm.
There does arise however a fundamental, philosophical difficulty: when does life begin? When does the protection of human life begin and in what circumstances is it protected? I believe that if you consider, as science tells us, that life begins at conception then there is no logical justification for affording protection to born life but not to unborn life.
It is important in this debate that we recognise that people have strongly held views on this issue and that whatever views we hold we must respect the genuineness of the views of others. To a certain extent it is true to say that this Bill is pre-emptory. The Government has set up an expert group to look at the issue. I hope the group will look at it from every angle and review all the medical evidence available in order that we will have well balanced proposals.
I believe very strongly in the concept of protecting human life. That is fundamental. I also believe the child in the womb is a person and that, therefore, that we are under an obligation to protect that human life. On the other hand, I also believe it is absolutely vital to be non-judgmental about the decisions people might take and utterly supportive of their welfare. However, when it comes to the law, the awkward issue is whether we protect the human life in the womb.
There are two human lives here, there are two lives to be protected and because I believe in protecting in human life what we have to try to do, at all times, is protect both. I accept that there are others who take a radically different view and do not see the life in the womb as being worthy of the same protection. I respect their views, even though I disagree fundamentally and philosophically with that position from a humanistic point of view because I believe in the protection of human life, my definition of which extends to before birth.
The Bill focuses on the X case and I hope the expert group will look at all of the issues arising from this case. For example, one of the issues with the X case decision is that the Supreme Court took the facts presented as given yet there was no psychiatric evidence provided as to whether this was the best or only treatment available to prevent the threat of suicide in the case. I hope the best medical experts will look at this issue again in the light of the information now available. It is also important to look at the mental health effects of abortion on women. I understand there have been cases in which there has been a proven link between post-abortion stress and a person’s mental health.
On a related issue, I also regret the subsuming of the Crisis Pregnancy Agency back into the Department of Health because such an agency is better positioned to do very good work in counselling and providing support as a stand-alone agency. I am not as convinced that there is a financial saving in subsuming it into the Department. There has been too much exaggeration of the financial savings to be made in subsuming such bodies. The agency was able to work outside the Department. There is a need for a halfway house where an agency can be given independence without the need for a huge infrastructure to back it up.
My Fiscal Compact Woes
I’m under attack in today’s Irish Times, you can have a look for yourself here.
I am disappointed that the Dáil debate was more about sloganeering, prepared speeches from the Government parties and bad mouthing those that questioned the Fiscal Treaty rather than a careful analysis of the very serious issues confronting the Irish people. I hope the debate over the coming months will examine very carefully all aspects of the decision we are about to take as a people. This decision could have huge consequences for the medium term future of our country.
I regret that Sean Sherlock did not address the detailed points I made rather than getting into a rant that has nothing to do with what I said. As I have stated consistently over and over again, I believe that we need to look at the small print of this Treaty. We need to examine it carefully and choose a course that will serve the interests of the common good and the plain people of Ireland and not the banks and powerful financial lobbies of Europe.
Abridged Address of Éamon O Cuív T.D. to Dáil Éireann on Wednesday the 18th of April 2012 on the Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012
Fiscal Compact Must Be Ratified as Part of a Triptych of Interlocking Treaties; the first of which requires unanimity
I am delighted to have an opportunity to address this Bill. I strongly support [the Fiscal Compact Treaty] being put to the Irish people. I am glad the Government eventually came to the conclusion that the Irish people should be asked their opinion. However, my view is that since there are three interlocking treaties, and this is not the first but the third of them, the Government should have put the three treaties as a package to the Irish people. I understand a case is being lodged in the courts on that basis. This is fundamental because, as I will point out later, the fiscal compact will become a reality only if all countries ratify the initial Treaty and then the European Stability Mechanism, ESM is set up.
The Principle of Fiscal Insurance, in the form of the ESM, Makes Sense But More Precision is Required on the Rules That Will Govern Our Budgetary Policy
No one can argue against the principle of a backstop of cash or of fiscal rule. I do not know anyone who is against fiscal discipline. The question is; does this Treaty provide fiscal discipline or simply rules that will become a straitjacket and are unenforceable? Furthermore, will anyone know what [constitutes] these rules? This is like asking someone to play in a football match where there is no set of rules that anyone can read and understand. We know what would happen in such a case. People would argue with the referee.
Necessity of Treading Carefully In Referenda and Examples of Previous Mistakes
I welcome this debate but am disappointed with it because it seems to be a series of pre-prepared statements for backbenchers and Ministers [which] do not analyse the issue. When we hold referendums we should remember the safe cross code. We should look right, look left, look right again and then cross the road. We know that in previous referendums that did not happen and difficulties arose. ... In some cases, referendums were passed and we then had to undo the damage caused [at a later date]. In other cases, the people examined the small print and decided they were being sold a pig in a poke. A good example is the referendum that followed the Good Friday Agreement which was passed with great fanfare. There were difficulties within the small print of that amendment to our Constitution. We had to have a second referendum on the question of the Irish born child because of the flawed wording we had passed in the Good Friday referendum. We had a rushed referendum last autumn where eight former Attorneys General pointed out that what was being proposed was deeply flawed and the Irish people, rightly in my view, decided to vote against the amendment.
Moving Towards a Real Legislature
Those who dismiss all argument, analysis and inquiry into what we are doing at present are letting themselves down and, furthermore, are reneging on every promise they made that this Legislature would be a place of debate and inquiry and not of pre-prepared speeches. When the Government came to office, there was much talk about the Legislature taking the initiative and holding to account the Executive, but we are back to the same old, “Don’t question anything; get the backbenchers to read the same old pre-prepared speeches; don’t ask the awkward questions and hope no one else asks them either”. It is important to examine the small print of what we are doing, [but ...] we must also look at the wider picture of what we sign up for and the context in which we do so. This is particularly important as we are writing something into our Constitution and are being asked to pass a law that will be permanent. That is why I am looking at this issue from all angles.
This is Not a Referendum on Our Membership of the EU or the Euro
Can we dismiss the rubbish from the Government that this has anything to do with our membership of the Eurozone or of the European Union or that there are pro-EU and anti-EU parties involved? I know of no one who is proposing that we leave either the Eurozone or the European Union. Sloganeering on that basis [is nonsensical].
Do We Have to Vote Yes to Stay at the Heart of Europe?
The second argument is that [passing this Treaty] will keep us at the heart of Europe and will make it clear that Ireland is open for business. We are also told that if we vote against this Treaty we may be thrown out of the euro. That is a veiled threat and one that has no substance in law. People who argue on that basis are abdicating their responsibility to get the best deal for Ireland and for Europe. They argue that we must vote ‘Yes’ to keep ourselves at the heart of Europe ... If one were to accept that argument one would have to vote for every EU referendum put forward and all proposals from Europe would be waved through without question ... Therefore if corporation tax is next on the agenda, will we automatically support that approach as well? Will a day come when a Government or the Legislature will say we do not agree with what is being proposed? We are keen on being at the heart of Europe but does this mean we agree with everything proposed, any more than saying we must agree with everything the Government proposes if we are to be at the heart of Ireland? How would rejecting a proposal put forward by Europe mean we would not be at the heart of Europe? That is a nonsense argument and has no validity.
The Fiscal Compact Cannot Proceed if the Irish People Reject This Referendum
I am in favour of fiscal discipline. Does this give us fiscal discipline or merely an impossible straitjacket? [... We need to examine] the wider context of this proposal. Time and again we are asked, ‘where we would get the money if we do not pass the fiscal compact?’ The reality is that we are passing three treaties. The first is an amendment of the definition of the treaties governing the European Communities to include reference to the Treaty establishing the European Stability Mechanism. We cannot have the other two treaties without that one. It has not been ratified. The Government has, rightly, agreed not to ratify it until the fiscal Treaty has been ratified. Secondly there is a Treaty to set up the European Stability Mechanism and thirdly there is the fiscal compact Treaty. It is fair to say the second and third treaties can go ahead without Ireland’s ratification. However if Ireland refuses to ratify the first Treaty [then] the second and third cannot [proceed]. I presume the Government’s reason for postponing ratification of the [first] Treaty until after the referendum is that in the event of Ireland not ratifying the fiscal compact we can hold up the whole ship until we get a proper package that deals with Europe’s problems.
The Responsibility of Banks in this Economic Crisis
What European leaders have decided is not the best package for Europe. Fiscal stability is only part of the package. The main cause of the problem in this country was not fiscal instability and [research on the Fiscal Compact issued by] Davy Stockbrokers [is worth referring to on this matter]. The main cause of the [economic difficulty] in this country was the behaviour of [our] banks. Nowhere in all of this do we see a ‘rolling in’ of bank behaviour or international finance across Europe. If the following issues were dealt with, would it not be better for Europe and for Ireland? Should we not have proper regulation of the financial and banking sector at a central European level to ensure the banking crises and the problems of the past ten years do not recur? Let us get that into the package.
Attack on Democracy at the Heart of EU’s Response to the Crisis
There should be no further attempts by the EU to impose non-elected technocratic governments in the European Union. The EU is founded on a bedrock of democracy and yet Europe, centrally, is either imposing or trying to impose technocratic non-elected governments. We need a commitment from the European Union that the right of initiative remains with the Commission and that two strong member states, that is, France and Germany, will not be allowed, by stealth or by practice, to lay out policy for Europe. It must remain the role of the Commission to propose policy and the role of the intergovernmental meetings to roll it out.
We Need Strong Commitments on Preserving our Corporate Tax Rate
We hear about preserving investment in the country. The biggest challenge to investment in this country at the moment is the uncertainty being raised by President Sarkozy about our corporation tax. Let’s start again and this time get a commitment that corporation tax and common consolidated corporate tax base, CCCTB, will not be imposed on this country and that the promises that were given to us in the Lisbon Treaty, on which some of us canvassed, will be adhered to ... [We should] have insisted that an employment and growth strategy would be part of the package. Let us go back and get that first. [We should also demand that] the ECB reformed as a normal central bank with the normal powers of a central bank and that in particular it would have the power to buy sovereign bonds at 1% instead of selling them to the banks at 1% and selling them on at one remove at 5%, leaving huge profits for private institutions.
Continental Banks Must Carry Their Share of the Burden
An issue that goes to the core of implementing the fiscal compact is that the European banks that lent to the Irish banks or their sovereign governments would assume their fair share of the losses caused by their shared reckless behaviour instead of trying to saddle the whole debt on the Irish people. If one leaves the debt as it is and we assume all of the bank debt, when one applies the fiscal compact rules it is tantamount to slow strangulation. One might argue that if we say “No”, we will go over the cliff, but that is not the case because we can hold up the whole show and go back and renegotiate in the interests of the ordinary, plain people of Europe who do not seem to count for much among European leaders. ... [W]e need to ensure a good deal for this country as well. My experience of Europe is that every country looks after its own interests.
Nobody Knows What the Fiscal Compact Actually Means
When one looks at the fiscal compact itself, one of the interesting things is that nobody knows what it means. In other words, we are buying a pig in a poke. A document was published by Davy stockbrokers, who would not be considered revolutionaries, which indicates that “[The] structural budget deficit target of 0.5% is a poor choice.” The report states:
“The structural deficit is an abstract economic concept that cannot be observed with certainty. For example, the IMF estimates that Ireland ran a structural budget deficit of 5.4% of GDP in 2006, whereas the EU Commission estimates that Ireland ran a surplus of 2.2% the same year. Markets are unlikely to derive confidence in fiscal policy from budgetary targets they cannot observe.”
The report continues: “[The] Treaty does not go far enough; IMF proposals that could have preserved Ireland’s creditworthiness are not included.” The report also states, rightly, that “The fiscal compact would have had no bearing on the collapse in Ireland’s public finances had it been adopted at the inception of the euro ... However, the IMF has proposed mutual insurance mechanisms for the euro area that would have preserved Ireland’s creditworthiness.”
In the context of budgets, Davy Stockbrokers state:
“The key innovation in the new Treaty is to enshrine the rules in national law. The immediate case for reinforcing fiscal discipline in Europe is illustrated by the problems in Greece. But some argue that enshrining the rules in Irish law will imply a sea-change in the discussion of budgetary policy – by framing the debate around abstract economic concepts such as the output gap, structural budget balance and automatic stabilisers, perhaps our politicians might better manage the public finances. However, our view is that this approach ignores the key risks to the public finances from financial spill-overs within the euro area and the banking sector.”
The reports indicates that the “Structural budget deficit target is a poor choice as official estimates differ starkly and are prone to revision over time.”
We have been given examples of where we are buying into the Treaty yet nobody knows what the Treaty is about or how to measure it. Even the briefing from the Library and Research Service [of the Oireachtas] states that there is no accurate measure of structural deficit and that this is a matter of opinion. We are buying into a Treaty but nobody knows what it is about and what effect it will have. I will set a challenge for those who claim to know.
Can the Government Show How the Fiscal Compact will Impact on our Deficit?
If the Government is so sure about the impact of the fiscal compact on our deficit and budget and how it will pan out, I suggest it does two things. First, it must get the Fiscal Advisory Council to prepare a ten-year budget on the basis of what the Government proposes. It would also prepare a second budget based on the presumption that a fair share of the bank debt is assumed by the countries who caused it. In other words we would divide the bank debt of the sovereign by two and then we would run a second budget and see how it works out. Perhaps neither would work out to be possible or perhaps the second one, which would be preferable if we had the full package I outlined earlier available, would work out far better than the one the Government is offering. If one puts the figures on the table for the people, I am sure they would make a mature choice.
I stand to be corrected but my view is that when one is forced to do the budgetary arithmetic based on the Treaty that is proposed, one will find that one will not be within the terms of the fiscal compact with the current level of debt which the Taoiseach insists is going to be paid to the last cent, and that he is not going to look for the recklessness to be spread among the people who were reckless or do what the Labour Party wants to do. I do not have the resources to do those calculations but the Fiscal Advisory Council does. I believe that if we work out the figures, they will prove conclusively that this is a straitjacket into which we cannot fit.
Is there an Alternative?
The Government’s problem is that it cannot see a way out. I have provided the way out. If the first Treaty did not exist there would not be such a handy way out, but because it exists one can hold up the whole train until a proper package is put together that deals with the banking issue. I am flabbergasted that the Labour Party in celebrating the 100th year of its foundation by James Connolly seems to [believe] that this crisis was caused by sovereigns rather than by banks. It seems absolutely determined to defend the private banking and financial interests of Europe. I have never taken an easy view [on the question] of bonds because I recognise that there are a lot of pension funds involved, something the Labour Party did not recognise when it was in opposition, and that it is not simple. To paraphrase the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, there is a choice to be made [here] between Ireland’s way and Frankfurt’s way. The Government is choosing Frankfurt’s way. I believe we should choose Ireland’s way.
The full content of the speech is available at http://debates.oireachtas.ie/dail/2012/04/18/00024.asp