Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
The Taoiseach: I am pleased to have this opportunity to inform the House that the Irish people will be asked for their authorisation, in a referendum, to ratify the European stability treaty, the so-called fiscal compact treaty. I strongly believe it is very much in Ireland’s national interest that this treaty be approved, as doing so will build on the steady progress the country has made in the past 12 months. That progress has seen international and investor confidence in Ireland rising, leading to many new investments in our country, investments that are creating new jobs for our people. I want that flow of investment to continue and expand.
Ratification of this treaty will be another important step in the rebuilding of Ireland’s economy and our international reputation. It will give the Irish people the opportunity to reaffirm Ireland’s commitment to membership of the euro, which remains a fundamental pillar of our economic and jobs strategy. More binding and enforceable fiscal rules as a result of ratification will be good for Ireland and the wider eurozone, and will cement growing international confidence in Ireland’s recovery.
Long before any discussions of a new set of housekeeping rules for the eurozone, the new Government had committed itself to legislate for equally challenging domestic deficit and debt rules. In this referendum, the Irish people can confirm our commitment to responsible budgeting and, in doing so, ensure that the reckless economic mismanagement that drove our country to the brink of bankruptcy will not be repeated by any future Government.
The Taoiseach: Putting in place this credible commitment to responsible budgeting will be key to keeping interest rates low and unlocking credit availability for investment and job creation. Lower interest rates also mean more resources for the provision of essential public services. The creation of stronger budgetary rules is an essential element of the steps that are needed to ensure stability, confidence and growth here in Ireland and in the eurozone.
Throughout the process leading to this new treaty, the Government has consistently said that the final text would be referred to the Attorney General for her advice as to whether a referendum was required to ratify it in Ireland. At this morning’s Cabinet meeting, the Attorney General conveyed her formal advice that, as this treaty is a unique instrument, outside the European Union treaty architecture, on balance, a referendum is required to ratify it.
On foot of this advice, the Government has decided to hold a referendum on this issue in which the people of Ireland will be asked to give their authorisation for the ratification of this treaty. On Friday, along with other heads of government, I intend to sign this treaty in Brussels. In the coming weeks, the Government will finalise the arrangements and process leading to this referendum, including the establishment of a referendum commission to ensure adequate and full public information, a referendum Bill which will be debated in the Oireachtas and draft legislation to provide for the implementation of the treaty’s provisions will be published.
I am very confident that when the importance and merits of this treaty are communicated to the Irish people, they will endorse it emphatically by voting Yes to continued economic stability and recovery. I look forward to that debate, one which I believe will produce a result that will be seen in the future as an historic milestone in Ireland’s economic comeback and keep Ireland central to the European process.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Eamon Gilmore): Today the Attorney General has advised the Government that it is best for Ireland to have a referendum in order to ratify the European stability treaty. On foot of that advice, and in line with our public commitment, the Government has decided to consult the people by referendum and seek approval for the treaty. In the weeks ahead there will be ample opportunity for debating the detail of the treaty provisions. In the end, this will come down to a vote for economic stability and economic recovery.
When this Government was elected a year ago Ireland was in the depths of a political, economic and financial crisis. In the past 12 months the situation has been transformed through the hard work and sacrifice of the Irish people. We have re-established financial and political stability and are working all-out to achieve economic recovery. It has been a difficult path for all of us but as a country we have made important progress.
Our cost of borrowing has fallen, we have substantially re-negotiated the EU-IMF programme, our reputation internationally has been transformed and money and jobs are coming back into the country. Once again we are seeing international companies investing and creating jobs in Ireland. Just yesterday we saw the benefits of the renewed confidence in the country being translated into 200 more jobs in Cork, which in turn followed from an announcement of 1,000 jobs in Dundalk. These announcements were made possible by the turnaround that has been achieved in Ireland’s reputation and a renewed sense of financial and economic stability.
Ireland is a small and extremely open economy. Our living standards and capacity to create jobs depends on our ability to trade and attract investment. For that to happen and for economic recovery to be possible, we need stability in Ireland and in Europe, the kind of stability that gives investors and families reasonable certainty about what the future holds.
Until we achieve that certainty at home and in Europe, confidence will not fully return to the domestic Irish economy and our recovery will be delayed. We need a thriving and prosperous European economy that has moved beyond the current crisis. That is the purpose of this treaty. It is part of a package of measures being put in place in Europe to stabilise the situation in the eurozone. As I have said, that is vital to our national interests.
The treaty is an important part of that package because it provides assurance that the kinds of problems that have emerged in Greece cannot happen again. Ratifying the treaty will also provide Ireland with access to emergency funds in the future, if we need them, through the new European stability mechanism. Our intention is to emerge from the EU-IMF programme without having to resort to the ESM, but the facility is an important backstop that will further enhance international confidence in Ireland.
After years of crisis and sacrifice the Irish people now have the basis on which to build a sustainable economic recovery. We now have an opportunity to go beyond the casino capitalism that brought us to this point and build sustainable prosperity based on our capacity to sell goods and services abroad, attract investment and rebuild confidence in the domestic economy.
It comes down to what is best to attract investment to Ireland in order to create the jobs we need, what will make existing jobs more secure and what will help a young couple to have confidence to buy a house, a person who has an idea and the necessary drive to start a business and families to plan and save for their children’s future.
As I stated last December, if we must have another referendum in this country, so be it. If that is what we must do to save our currency and restore our economy to be able, as a sovereign nation, to borrow again on the financial markets and ensure that no future Government can ever again bring us to such a sorry state, I am confident the Irish will do what is necessary. Endorsing the treaty will be another important milestone for Ireland in our road to recovery. In the weeks ahead, as the Government puts in place the necessary measures for a referendum, that is the case we will make to the people. I am confident they will respond by saying “Yes” to the treaty.
An Ceann Comhairle: In view of the content of the statements from both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and the importance I attach to them, it is fair and reasonable that the leaders of the main Opposition parties be allowed an opportunity to respond. It is only right and proper that the Technical Group have a chance to respond. Whether we have the responses straight away or adjourn to allow Members get their thoughts together is a matter for the Whips. I would like to be reasonable and fair to everybody.
An Ceann Comhairle: Would the Deputies mind being quiet? We are trying to deal with this in a fair way. I ask the Deputies to stop the noise for a minute and allow Deputies put their thoughts together. We will postpone the other items on the agenda. When we are finished with this matter, we will resume on them.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I welcome the Ceann Comhairle’s intervention and warmly welcome the provision of time to Members of the Opposition. It is unfortunate that the Government did not organise that in advance of this session.
Deputy Micheál Martin: This is our national Parliament. I appreciate what the Ceann Comhairle has done and I want to make a constructive contribution on what I just heard. We were notified of this matter eight minutes ago. For future reference, when decisions of this moment are being announced, a short telephone call to the Opposition leaders should be made to allow for some time, particularly when we want everybody engaged in this referendum, which is crucial to the nation.
Deputy Micheál Martin: I welcome the decision. It is the right one and it should not have required a legal opinion. It is a very important treaty and the people have a right to decide. I asked over two weeks ago at the Institute of International and European Affairs how we could honestly expect people to be happy if they are told a treaty is important enough to save the euro but not important enough for them to have a say. I warmly welcome the referendum. I have argued consistently, particularly arising from my experiences of the second Lisbon treaty referendum and directing the campaign, that the people need to be engaged. We need to take the people with us on our journey in respect of the European Union, not just on the treaty under discussion.
I respectfully suggest to the Government side that it may very well need the support of quite a number of us on this side to have the treaty passed and that there should be less of the partisan commentary. This would be appropriate given the gravity of the issues before us. The crucial issue, based on experience of the Lisbon treaty, is the necessity to engage with people on this issue. I am clear where my party and I stand; we will be supporting the ratification of the treaty. We welcome the fact that it is going before the people. We predict another treaty down the line that will have to be put to the people given the issues that have yet to be grasped by our European leadership.
We have been very critical of the manner in which the Government has engaged with the Dáil on this issue over the past six to nine months. I asked that a sub-committee of the Dáil be established to deal with the lead-up to the treaty negotiations so Members would have an opportunity to inform themselves of the detail of the treaty, the issues to be discussed. Regrettably, that did not happen. Before Christmas, I asked for meetings with the Taoiseach to discuss the Government’s position in advance of the summit before Christmas, again so the Opposition would be apprised of the issues covered by the treaty and the negotiating stance of the Government.
The bottom line is that, unfortunately, we cannot approach Europe or every European treaty on the basis that we are scared about what may emerge or have to be put to the people, or that we want to do everything possible to prevent a referendum, as a German Minister stated here last week when he confirmed a report in The Irish Times by Arthur Beesley that every effort was made to avoid a constitutional change. That is regrettable and is not the way to approach these issues.
It is very clear that this treaty is very important to Ireland’s economic future and also to the broader circumstances across Europe. We have said the treaty is reasonable but it is not, by any means, the answer to the eurozone crisis. Far more substantive issues must be dealt with, such as broadening the mandate of the European Central Bank and developing a broader fiscal union involving genuine transfers from stronger states to others, if we are to maintain equilibrium in our monetary union. We must learn the lessons from the flawed design of the euro, which have come to pass in what has been labelled as “the great recession”, the worst in 80 years. We must take all that on board, and the only way we can do so is through more fundamental change. That said, this is a reasonable treaty. I accept what the Tánaiste is saying about access to the ESM and the content of an appendix to a treaty.
In essence, if we want to get back into the marketplace we want the ESM as a backstop to ensure we can keep our education and welfare systems running along with the various other services provided through current expenditure. We will support the ratification of the treaty and will be proposing a series of additional measures for the legislation that appears before us. The referendum will only pass if we present it to the people as part of a series of measures required to return Europe to jobs and growth. It cannot be presented as the only major reform on the agenda.
Deputy Gerry Adams: Cuirim fáilte roimh an ráiteas seo. Táim an-sásta gur tháinig an Taoiseach agus an Tánaiste go dtí an Dáil agus go ndearna siad an ráiteas anseo. Is maith an rud é sin. Táim ag éirí beagáinín dóchasach go mbíonn siad ag éisteacht liomsa agus le Sinn Féin uaireanta. Ar an ábhar sin, I welcome the announcement and the fact that the Taoiseach and Tánaiste have come to the Chamber to make it. That is unusual but it gives us hope that the Government occasionally listens to Sinn Féin on these matters.
While I welcome the announcement, I believe it marks another failure by the Government. It tried to avoid a referendum, as the Tánaiste acknowledged, but it is good that there will now be one because the people will now have a say. Since the first drafts of the treaty were leaked to the public — last December, I believe — Sinn Féin has argued there is a democratic imperative to have a referendum. I am glad there is a clear legal case. The value of a referendum is primarily that the people will have their say on a matter of profound and long-lasting importance.
The question is whether the Government will accept the outcome. Are we to have the usual rerun or replay? Will the Government phrase the question in such a way as to allow the people to have an informed debate as opposed to being subject to the bullying tactics used in the past? If the Government has identified the phrasing, will it remind me of what it is? It is equally important that the campaign be informed and informative and that the details of the treaty and its implications for the people of this State and the island be discussed fully and debated.
We welcome the announcement. Let us be clear, however, that the treaty is an austerity treaty that will not help to regenerate the economy. On the contrary, it will condemn the people, particularly those on lower and middle incomes, to endure the Government’s terrible policy of austerity. It is little wonder that Fianna Fáil supports this. Fianna Fáil, Labour and Fine Gael formed a consensus for cuts and we will see that replayed again. The Taoiseach has declared he wants to be able to take economic power back into this State — that is, whatever little economic power remains — yet here he is in a treaty taking what limited fiscal power is in the Oireachtas and giving it to unelected, undemocratic officials in Brussels.
Let us have a good, informed debate. Let us also ensure that the citizenry who have now had their rights restored to them — something which this Government tried to avoid — will be able to take a decision which binds the Government so it cannot ignore their wishes. Sinn Féin is clearly against this treaty from what we have heard of it. We wait to see the question that will be put. We are against austerity and do not think it is fair, right or proper that working people should have to pay the penalty of bad Government, or that this has to happen in order to pay off the Government’s cronies in the ciorcal órga — the big bankers, bondholders and all the rest.
Deputy Joe Higgins: I have a short point of order. When the Ceann Comhairle’s predecessors were in the Chair, whenever issues like this arose, it was recognised that for certain purposes parties in opposition — under Standing Orders, this means parties of two Deputies or more — are also given the right to make a short intervention.
An Ceann Comhairle: There is no precedent for this. In fact, I have taken it upon myself to create a precedent, given the seriousness of the situation, to allow spokespersons from the three groups. I was told that the Technical Group has nominated Deputy Shane Ross.
Deputy Joe Higgins: When the Green Party and Sinn Féin did not have the requisite seven Deputies in a previous Dáil, they were called as a matter of form on occasions like this to make short statements. That is the precedent.
Deputy Shane Ross: On behalf of the Technical Group, all of it, I wish to welcome the fact that we are having a referendum on this treaty. I only regret that it was not called without having to go to the Attorney General. What happened in this case was that the Government was against holding a referendum, as enunciated by the Minister for Transport earlier, because it would apparently involve a lot of extraneous issues and it would be difficult to have a referendum on this issue.
I welcome this because it gives us and the people an opportunity to debate wider issues than just this one, which will come into it. It is a pity that the Government did not, first of all, voluntarily go down this road. When it came into power it should also have held a referendum on the EU-IMF deal.
Deputy Shane Ross: That will be part of this debate whether the Government likes it or not. What will arise in this debate will be the promissory notes and the debt. Those two issues will be the most important ones. Government Ministers will have to face the fact that the people did not like that initial deal and, as a result, they will not particularly like this deal either. This deal is an extension of the last one.
Deputy Shane Ross: As Deputy Adams said, this is a fiscal union pact on austerity. It is a pact which has not been a product of Irish input, but one that is dictated by Germans, French and others. It is a realistic reflection of where power lies in Europe. Let there be no doubt whatsoever that this is not an end in itself. In this pact we will see the forerunner of further fiscal union down the road, which we will not like and will not accept. It would be utterly wrong for anyone here to think that this is some sort of an isolated treaty. After this will come tighter fiscal union, greater sacrifice of our independence and further attempts to increase our corporation profits tax. This is a road which we should not wish to go down. The Government should ask the people to pass this, but promise them that if they do so the debt will be reduced.
Deputy Shane Ross: That is the demand that should have been made in Europe before we signed up for this deal. Before the Taoiseach signs up for this deal on Friday, he should promise one thing — that there will be a credit write-off for the Irish people as a minimum quid pro quo for this treaty.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Is it not reasonable that the political parties registered in the Dáil should have a brief opportunity to come back on this, to reflect the full diversity of the Dáil?
An Ceann Comhairle: My understanding is that you signed up to the Technical Group, as did the Socialist Party. The Technical Group was offered a slot and it decided to nominate Deputy Shane Ross as its spokesperson, end of story. We are now moving on to Leaders’ Questions. I call Deputy Micheál Martin.
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