Thirtieth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union) Bill 2012: Second Stage (Resumed)
Wednesday, 18 April 2012
Dáil Éireann Debate
Deputy Tony McLoughlin: Since entering office in March 2011, the Taoiseach has set about his central goal of restoring confidence in Ireland. In my view he has succeeded, and alongside various Ministers, including the Tánaiste, Ireland has renewed optimism despite the fact that we are still under the troika programme. Just today, Chambers Ireland stated at the Oireachtas sub-committee on the referendum that a “Yes” vote in the EU fiscal treaty referendum is vital if we are to restore Ireland’s confidence. It is Chambers Ireland’s belief that a “Yes” vote is vital if we wish to enhance confidence levels, support employment, attract investment and guarantee future access, if we need it, to the European Stability Mechanism. It is, in other words, the insurance policy Ireland needs as we move onwards and upwards.
Ireland is in a financial crisis for many reasons but many economists would say the primary reason was the lack of regulation. Who do we blame? I suggest the Government of the day, which ignored the various limitations under the euro, as many other countries did. We can also blame the ECB, which also failed to do its job. The Fianna Fáil-PD Government between 2001 and 2008 increased public expenditure without recourse to a tax-base that was sustainable but instead was based on bricks and mortar. Today we see the introduction of the household charge, soon to be a property tax, and water metering, all measures that should have been introduced when the economy was better placed to take on a wider tax base. If Ireland had been living under the fiscal treaty at that time, such excessive spending would not have happened. We must ensure such cavalier governance of the country is never allowed again.
A vital issue Irish people must understand is that the treaty stipulates only countries that sign up will be able to access the ESM. Access to the ESM is a vital safety net for Ireland when we have completed our funding programme. If we are out of the loop, where will we go for future funding in an emergency? This treaty will not involve any additional austerity over the coming years. It will ensure the Government spends wisely and secures our economic future by ensuring an end to boom to bust economics that we have seen in the last 25 years.
Economic fears regarding non-ratification of the fiscal treaty derive from the condition that provides that from March 2013, access by any eurozone state to the €0.7 trillion European Stability Mechanism will be conditional on the country having ratified the fiscal treaty. Ireland’s failure to ratify the treaty would thus come at a price. It is our insurance policy against default. Ireland’s ambition is to return to the market post-2013 and the decision by Ireland to adopt the fiscal treaty will clearly show our potential lenders our determination to ensure the economy stays within certain economic parameters.
The current levels of inward investment by foreign multinational companies is of great importance to Ireland and are part of our economic plans for recovery. The signal we will send to investors if we reject the treaty is worrying. We must secure foundations and firewall protection around the economy and the international economy will be watching.
Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Deputy Joe Costello): The stability treaty is an important opportunity to affirm our commitment to stay at the heart of the eurozone and the European Union. It is in the interests of Ireland and its people: it is as simple as that.
The first article of the treaty states that its purpose is to support the achievement of the European Union’s objectives for sustainable growth, employment, competitiveness and social cohesion. As Minister of State with responsibility for trade and development, it is these objectives that guide my work both in Ireland’s own trade and in what we are doing to help the developing world. Stable and responsible economies with stable and responsible currencies are at the heart of what is needed for jobs, social cohesion and healthy trade. This is a treaty on stability and is about ensuring a stable euro. It is about confidence abroad and maintaining and enhancing the influence we have been rebuilding with investors, job creators and our European partners. In particular for job creating investors, from whom so many great job announcements have come in recent months, and even again today, PayPal has been a great example. Its decisions have been thanks to the determination of the Irish people, the stability restored to our economy and our place at the heart of the eurozone; the company knows where we stand.
As Minister of State, I meet job creators and investors around the world. They are attracted by what Ireland has to offer as a European base. Many are already here and are thinking of expanding while others are thinking of coming for the first time. They must, however, be sure the euro is stable and that the Irish economy is a stable and well managed economy at the core of the eurozone. Ireland is the only English speaking country in the eurozone. This is crucial to investor confidence, which we can underpin if we vote “Yes” and undermine if we do not.
The stability treaty is also about good housekeeping. We regard the creation of strong rules on budgetary matters in Europe as necessary to restore stability and confidence the euro. That is entirely consistent with the work we are doing at home. Most of what is in the treaty is already in the existing EU treaties and laws. The stability treaty will not solve all of our problems on its own: it is part of a wider picture. For Europe to move beyond its current difficulty, there must be a balanced approach with equal focus on the growth and jobs agenda. We have repeated that again and again. This view has gained widespread support and recent meetings of the European Council at the end of January and the start of March have been firmly focused on the jobs and growth agenda and have identified key measures to drive it forward. The Government played a key role in pushing this growth agenda.
This is also an insurance policy to make sure we have access, if needed, to the ESM funding that allows us to fund public services and all Government spending. We are determined to return to the financial markets next year to raise money on our own again like we did before. We are on target with our programme but we are far from immune from global economic events. Markets must know there is back-up in the form of the European Stability Mechanism and we can only access that if we ratify this treaty on 31 May. This treaty will contribute to our recovery and ensure economic stability for the country and currency that will contribute to the restoration of confidence in Ireland as a good and secure place in which to invest and do business.
The referendum on 31 May will be an important decision for Ireland and the Government will make the strongest possible case for ratification. It is clear that ratifying the treaty will build on the progress Ireland is making, including in restoring investor confidence in Ireland. We will be joined by many elements of the Opposition in Parliament and many civil society organisations. We hope for a calm and informed debate with a positive outcome. I look forward to playing my part in that and to a successful conclusion.
Deputy Seán Kyne: On 31 May the Irish people will be asked to ratify the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. During and before the Dáil recess, I attended several days of meetings of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Affairs which discussed, debated and explored the treaty. Ambassadors, business and employers’ groups, trade unions, NGOs, university academics, economists and business journalists participate in these meetings. Participating in these meetings has reinforced my belief that a “Yes” vote is best for Ireland and best for the European Union.
At one session I attended, the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association, ISME, Financial Services Ireland, the Irish Farmers’ Association, IFA, the Irish Business and Employers Confederation, IBEC, and the Small Firms Association were all represented and all encouraged a “Yes” vote. These groups represent businesses that are surviving, growing and, in some cases, flourishing as part of Europe and they see no benefit to job protection or expansion in a “No” vote. While it is true that this treaty does not create jobs, it provides the stability and confidence necessary to encourage inward investment into this country. I am particularly pleased with the announcement today that 220 jobs will be created in Indreabhán in Connemara by Bioniche Pharma. I warmly welcome the involvement of the IDA and Údarás na Gaeltachta in bringing those jobs to Galway.
At that session I was also particularly pleased that the IFA, which represents our farmers, has asked for a “Yes” vote. Obviously, agriculture is a huge growth industry at present and the agrifood sector has been one of the good news stories in the last number of years. As John Bryan, the president of the IFA, said: “Ireland is a small, open economy with a growing export-dependent agrifood sector with great potential. Membership of a stable euro currency is critical to achieving the Food Harvest 2020 targets for investment, growth in output and exports. IFA is therefore recommending a “Yes” vote to the farming community and rural Ireland, as it believes ratification of the fiscal treaty is in the interest of IFA. It is also in the national interest. We believe a “Yes” vote is a vote of confidence in Ireland and in the EU.”
In that session a number of words were used which are key to this treaty. They include “certainty”, “responsibility”, “investment”, “stability”, “growth” and “positivity”. Ireland has always been at the heart of Europe and this must continue. The treaty is fundamentally about stability. It will encourage wiser and better budget decisions and will formally provide a strengthened safety net for euro zone countries, with each country committing to show solidarity and support to partner countries experiencing economic and financial difficulties. The treaty is also about future security and ensuring that we have a source of funding available at all times if needed. Ireland has experienced several economic shocks caused by an unsustainable economic model which allowed for huge increases in public spending that were financed by temporary property based revenue.
Nobody, regardless of their political colours, can deny that Ireland has a huge gap between revenue and spending. To keep our country going, to maintain schools, hospitals and social services and to finance our social welfare safety net we are dependent on assistance from our European partners. Opponents of the treaty claim it is an austerity treaty. That is wrong. The treaty will put Ireland back in control of its economic destiny, ensuring that debt is reduced to safe levels. Without the support Ireland is currently receiving, the budget deficit would have to be closed in a much shorter time frame, leading to greater austerity measures. A “No” vote will bring about the greatest degree of austerity and hardship because the Government will be faced with the prospect of running out of money and being locked out of the European Stability Mechanism, a €500 billion fund to help countries. It is entirely logical and reasonable that any country receiving the support of its partners under the ESM should be prepared to run sensible budgetary policies. While the discussions at the European affairs committee meetings involved numerous speakers who were negative on the treaty, they did not appear to be able to answer questions about alternative sources of funding to the ESM.
It is also important to note that the treaty does not affect our sovereignty. Ireland will still draft its own budgets and make its own decisions on tax rates, including the corporation tax rates. The budgetary rules all countries will abide by will be the same; how they get there will be up to each individual country. In recognition of the need for clear concise information, over the next few weeks the full text of the treaty along with explanatory material will be distributed to households to help citizens reach an informed decision. A “Yes” vote will send a strong, positive message from Ireland and will protect our currency, promote stability, encourage investment, instill confidence and ultimately put us more firmly on the road to economic recovery.
Deputy John Paul Phelan: I am glad to have an opportunity to contribute to the Second Stage debate on this legislation, which provides for a constitutional referendum on the stability treaty. I am glad the people will get an opportunity to make their judgment on what is a crucial stepping stone on the road to recovery for our economy and country. This is a different referendum from all the previous referenda we have had on the various European treaties because this treaty will come into effect next year if 12 countries ratify it. Ireland is the only country that will have a referendum in which the members of the public will have their say directly. This places us in a unique position. However, it is crucially different in that the treaty will come into effect regardless of the outcome of the vote in this country.
The Minister of State, Deputy Costello, and other speakers have referred to this treaty as providing an insurance policy. It is similar to householders who insure their houses. They do not do so in the hope that they will have to use that insurance but for the reassurance of knowing it is there. The treaty is not just for the reassurance of Irish people and the Irish economy, but for the reassurance of people who are looking at this country with a view to future investment here. That is the single most important aspect of this treaty and it is the reason I will actively encourage and campaign for people to support it on 31 May. The euro is our currency. It is vital to the survival and recovery of our economy that we defend our common currency. The treaty is a concerted effort by members of the European Union to address some of the difficulties that have arisen in recent years that caused the situation in which our economy and the economies of many states in Europe now find themselves.
The stability treaty has been described as an austerity treaty. Nothing could be further from the truth. Without the support of the IMF, ECB and the European Commission — the troika — the difficulties we are experiencing at present in terms of trying to balance our budget would be far more severe. We would have to do it overnight. Just as politicians lecture businesses and householders about balancing their budgets, it is essential that governments and countries try to balance their budgets. It must be remembered that the terms in this treaty are those that were included in the revised Stability and Growth Pact. A crucial aspect of the stability treaty, however, is that for the first time it is proposed to impose sanctions on countries that go outside the terms established under that pact. From an Irish perspective, it is worth pointing out that France and Germany were the first countries to breach the original terms of the Stability and Growth Pact. No sanction was imposed on them. The sanctions provision will be a protection for smaller members of the Union such as Ireland in that sanction will be automatic on larger countries unless there is a majority vote to the contrary. That is a significant improvement in the bargaining position of smaller countries such as ours on the future of the euro and the European Union.
The job of this Government since the election last year has principally been to return economic and political stability to this country. I believe the Government has largely succeeded in that regard. The sense of doom, gloom and terror that existed 12 months ago and the sense of confusion about the future direction of Government policy do not exist at present. There is optimism, although there is also a realisation that the next couple of years will not be particularly easy. I believe the stability treaty should be supported by the people and I will do my utmost to bring that message to people in Kilkenny over the next few weeks. As I said earlier, I am glad the Irish people will have an opportunity to voice their opinion on this treaty through a referendum at the end of May.
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: I am delighted to have an opportunity to address this Bill. I strongly support this matter 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.
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 are the 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.
I welcome this debate, but I am disappointed with it because it seems to be a series of pre-prepared statements for backbenchers and Ministers who 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. We know what happened when people made up their minds before examining all the issues and things suddenly jumped out of the small print. In some cases, referendums were passed and we then had to undo the damage caused. 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 a 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.
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, and I will come to that later. However, 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.
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. Sloganising on that basis is a nonsense.
The second argument is that this will keep us at the heart of Europe and will make it clear that Ireland is open for business. We hear the argument 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 in this case. They argue that we must keep ourselves at the heart of Europe and that is why we must vote “Yes”. 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. I have a question for the Minister of State. 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.
I am in favour of fiscal discipline. Does this give us fiscal discipline or merely an impossible straitjacket? Before I come to that issue, we should look at 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. Second, there is a treaty to set up the European Stability Mechanism and, third, 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, the second and third cannot happen. I presume the Government’s reason for postponing ratification of the third 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. 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. I will come to the detail of that, and Davy Stockbrokers are worth reading on this issue. The main cause of the problem in this country was the behaviour of the 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. 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 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 us 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. As a member of the Labour Party I would have thought the Minister of State, Deputy Costello, would have insisted that an employment and growth strategy would be part of the package. Let us go back and get that first. As a Labour Party member I would have also thought that the Minister of State would like to see 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.
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. It is also true to say that we need to ensure a good deal for this country as well. My experience of Europe is that every country looks after its own interests.
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 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.”
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 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. 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.
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——
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: ——seems to be obsessed 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 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. Therefore, I believe that if the sovereigns belonging——
Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: To paraphrase the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, there is a choice to be made this time between Ireland’s way and Frankfurt’s way. The Government is choosing Frankfurt’s way. I believe we should choose Ireland’s way.
Deputy Sean Sherlock: I welcome the announcement by Mylan Incorporated of 220 jobs in the Gaeltacht in Connemara. This is a testament to the hard work that has been done by the Government in spite of the awful economic morass in which we find ourselves as a result of the previous speaker’s Government’s actions. In spite of that economic morass in which we find ourselves, we are still winning new business and new investments and we are, in spite of the economic constraints, sending out signals to the business community that Ireland is open for business and that we are, against the head, doing our very best to restore that economic sovereignty that was lost through the actions of the previous speaker and the Government of which he was a Cabinet member.
For the record of this House and for any historical purposes, Deputy Ó Cuív was a Cabinet Minister in the previous Government that brought this country to its knees. When I listen to the revisionist rubbish coming from that gentlemen’s mouth, it would make the hair stand on the back of one’s neck. It is an absolute disgrace that anybody who was a Cabinet Minister in the previous Government would come in here and seek to lecture any other Member on this side of the House about where he perceives that we are going wrong in terms of the path that we are on to try to restore our economic sovereignty.
When I listen to his words, I must say that they are quite confused. I did not understand one iota of what he was saying. He contradicted himself when he stated that nobody understands this treaty and then, in another sentence, that the treaty does not go far enough. It was contradictory verbiage. It is time that he was called on the bluff and bluster that we have heard from him these past few months. It behoves us, as parliamentarians, to speak responsibly when we come into this House. We all are prone to oratorical flourishes. I do not exclude myself from that process, but I think we endeavour to speak the truth.
Ratification of this treaty is fundamental to Ireland’s recovery. The instability that has plagued the euro has been a destabilising feature of the EU polity and one which has diminished our stature as a continent in hegemonic terms.
The euro is our currency. It is Ireland’s currency and the treaty is about bringing stability to the entire eurozone. As a small open economy subject to the vagaries of global economic shifts, Ireland’s national interest is best served by our continuation as a member of this currency. Irish ratification of the treaty would further enhance growing international confidence in our ongoing recovery. We are on target to reduce our budget deficit to under 3% by 2015 and our exports are growing strongly.
Nobody would claim that the treaty is the sole answer to Europe’s economic problems, but it is a crucial part of a wider package of necessary measures. The treaty must be accompanied by more action to achieve growth and jobs, particularly at EU level. Membership of a strong stable euro is vital for the development of the economy. Achieving a European investment programme for growth and jobs should be a European aspiration and one that is best served by co-operation with our eurozone partners. I reiterate that, only today, Mylan Incorporated announced more than 220 new positions in addition to the existing operations in Ireland. It is incumbent on us to ensure that investments such as this continue in the future.
Ratification of this treaty will help to ensure that Ireland is seen as a safe place to do business. Any claim that rejecting the treaty will mean no more difficult decisions are required is patently false and disingenuous. There have been claims from members of the Opposition that this treaty will lead to further austerity and hardship for the Irish people. To those who call this an austerity treaty I say this. It is a falsehood to create a narrative that implicitly suggests that voting “No” means ending fiscal consolidation. The simple fact is that we, as a sovereign Government, must stabilise our public finances. That is a moral imperative. It is a moral imperative to ensure that future generations are left a half decent legacy with which to live. A debt to GDP ratio of more than 90% damages growth and Ireland’s debt to GDP ratio is expected to peak at approximately 118% this year. We take in only €7 million for each €10 million spent. We borrow €44 million daily to run the country. That is equivalent to France borrowing almost €600 million a day. This simply is not sustainable and we cannot afford to leave that burden to future generations.
In Ireland’s case, the stability treaty requires us to do no more than we are already doing to rebalance the public finances. The treaty does not prevent investment. What it does is ensure we have sustainable finances, balanced budgets, or budgets in surplus in good times and no unsustainable deficits in recessionary times. Investment is perfectly possible in these circumstances. That is a classical Keynesian theory.
Keynes’ theory has been misinterpreted by some to suit some political narratives. Keynes is not simply about stimulus packages that never need to be paid for. The economist, Seamus Coffey of UCC, recently stated that had the treaty and the wider package of measures now being considered through closer macroeconomic surveillance been in place over the past decade, Ireland’s economic crash would probably have been less severe and we probably would not have needed a bailout in 2010. Those who oppose this treaty in Ireland never state where Ireland will get the funding for a stimulus package. They only offer slogans about taxing the rich, and yet refuse to back initiatives such as a property tax. They think that Government borrowings do not have to be paid back and that there are no negative consequences to defaulting.
There have also been questions around why Ireland needs access to the European Stability Mechanism if the intention is to return to the markets next year. The Government has every intention of returning to the international lending markets next year. The existence of the ESM will make this process easier. The ESM is a safety net and will mean that we will be in a better bargaining position when we are looking for market funding.
This treaty will come into effect when 12 eurozone countries ratify it by 1 January 2013 or earlier. Unlike previous EU treaties, Ireland does not have a veto over this treaty. The only people affected by an Irish “No” would be the Irish people themselves. Deciding not to ratify this treaty would make Ireland’s economic recovery more difficult by, crucially, denying us future access to the ESM. We are working to ensure no second bailout will be necessary, but the very fact of not having the insurance policy of ESM access could undermine international confidence in our recovery.
The Irish Labour Party has long argued that fiscal consolidation must go hand in hand with growth and that one cannot work without the other. That is why we, with our colleagues in Government, are continually pressing for more growth initiatives in Europe.
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak. Tom Cruise is an actor who has divided opinion. Some like his films, others do not. One film that quite a few thought was his finest moment was “Jerry Maguire”. In that film, Tom Cruise plays a sports agent who is trying to sign as a client somebody who plays American football. Probably the most famous moment in that film is the scene in which the person he is trying to recruit makes one demand of him, which is, “Show me the money.” This is all about the footballer saying that if he goes to work for the agent, he wants the agent to show him the money. He wants the agent to tell him what money he will give him and how he will do it. That is the ultimate question that people must answer in this referendum——
Deputy Paschal Donohoe: ——the referendum of “Show me the money”. It is the question that those who are against this treaty must answer. Those who are looking for the passage of this treaty are able to answer it by saying that the State, if need be — we do not believe it will happen — would have access to a fund in the future. We are able to say that if this treaty is passed, it will make it easier for the State to access funding in the financial markets as well. People who are looking to reject this treaty cannot answer that question. They can offer options and theories but they cannot offer a concrete plan regarding how the State would be able to fund essential public services. We have already seen the convulsions that have been caused in our society, community and economy when we get ourselves to a place where first the banks and then the State are unable to borrow or find the money to fund the services upon which people depend. The question that has to be asked is which vote in this referendum gives us the best chance of avoiding that vista recurring, and of avoiding a situation where the State cannot borrow to fund the services people rely on. The answer to that question is to vote “Yes”.
This morning I saw an example of the need for this during a meeting of the sub-committee of the Committee on European Affairs that has been set up to look at this issue. People come in to the sub-committee and say we should vote “No” because options will become available and there are potentially other ways in which we can fund our services. Options, theories and possibilities are not good enough when we come to the question of how we would fund the social welfare payments that people need.
I want to deal with the options that have been put forward. The first option put forward is that if the ECB and the European Commission will not fund us, the IMF will. What I find extraordinary about this argument is that the very people putting forward this case are the same ones who have been writing books and making speeches decrying and criticising the role of the IMF in imposing conditions on other countries, with this conditionality having, it is claimed, a devastating impact elsewhere. These same people now come forward to say the IMF will support us. Does anybody really think the IMF, in an environment in which this country votes “No”, is going to move away from the need to impose conditions on a country that is looking for funding? More importantly, do they think the IMF will operate within the eurozone without the support of the European Central Bank and the European Commission? If one looks at the recent track record of the IMF in any country, let alone the eurozone, the answer to that question is surely “No”.
The second point put forward concerns the idea of conditionality in regard to Article 136. It is suggested it is not right that conditions should be put upon people who look to access the European Stability Mechanism. However, the ESM in a number of years will include our money in that the money going into that fund will come from the Irish taxpayer in order to be deployed in other countries. Is anybody seriously suggesting it is in the best interest of the Irish taxpayer not to have conditions regarding how our money is used in other countries? If they believe the answer to that question is that those conditions should not be there, they need to say to the Irish taxpayer why they will be happy in future for their money to be spent elsewhere without conditions attached. It is surely in our interest now and in the future for such conditions to be in place.
The third argument I hear is that if we vote “No” we will increase our options in the future. Of course, what this does not recognise is that other countries will by then have already ratified this programme, for example, Portugal has already done so. If we were in an environment in which our support was needed for this programme to go ahead and for this treaty to be ratified, of course, an argument that new options would be generated would hold water. However, our support is not needed for this treaty to come into force.
To conclude, those people who argue that defeat of this treaty will increase options for our country are surely not acknowledging the reality that our country will find itself in a situation where access to marketplace funding is more difficult, if not impossible, and access to a support mechanism, if we need it, is ruled out. That does not equal an increase in the options available to our people but instead reduces them to the state that further crisis is inevitable. That is what we have to avoid.
Deputy Heather Humphreys: I welcome this opportunity to speak on the Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. It is very important that we have this full discussion so the misinformation and scaremongering in which some people are engaging is dispelled and put to bed. I heard some of the previous speakers who spoke against the Bill stating we need to spend, spend, spend in order to create employment. As Deputy Donohoe said, show me the money. Where do they think we are going to get this money to spend? They are living in a deluded world — in fact, one could call it Alice, Joe or even Richard in Wonderland. Let us come back to reality.
It is important at the outset to define stability. Stability can be defined as firmness in position or the strength to stand and endure. We all recognise stability as a good thing. It is something everybody is looking for in this life — in their work, their family life and their relationships. How often have we been told that children need a stable home to flourish and thrive? Stability brings balance and harmony to our everyday lives. When we build a house, we always look for a stable foundation because, without it, we will have no base and eventually the house will fall. Therefore, we all agree that stability is a good thing in all aspects of our life and, in turn, we need stability as a nation.
Through austerity measures, a lot of weight and burden has been placed on the Irish people but, unfortunately, we need austerity for the sake of stability. More than ever, we need stability to move on. The stability of the economy encourages investment and we need investment to allow us to recover and regain our economic sovereignty.
The treaty reinforces existing EU rules to require EU Governments to live within their means by cutting excessive deficits and debt. The stability treaty requires us to put a set of rules in place that states Government budgets should be balanced or in surplus, with any structural deficit set at a lower limit of 0.5% of GDP. The idea is that if we run budget surpluses during periods when the economy is strong, we can afford to support the economy by running deficits when the economy is weak. Averaged out over an economic cycle, Government budgets should, therefore, be broadly balanced. This is good for economic stability and long-term growth. It means that when the economy is weak, Government supports spending in the economy by borrowing and, when the economy grows strongly, Government takes money out of the economy to repay public debt. This makes sense because it is basically good housekeeping rules.
The treaty also allows countries to breach the deficit rules during exceptional circumstances and borrow more heavily to protect employment through stimulus packages. An example of this would have been the foot and mouth crisis some years ago, where such a treaty would have allowed Ireland to break the borrowing rules to protect the economy.
As well as cutting excessive annual deficits, the treaty also reinforces existing EU rules that require countries to bring their overall public debts down to safe levels, judged as being 60% of GDP. Economic research shows that debt levels significantly in excess of this benchmark are bad for jobs and economic growth. It is important to note that countries with debt levels in excess of the 60% target, such as Ireland, will have 20 years to bring their debts down to the target level. On the other hand, good budget rules give investors confidence about the future. High public debt levels will increase the perceptions of risk around Ireland, making credit more expensive for businesses and job creators, and increasing interest rates for home owners.
Would anyone invest in a business that did not have a clear set of rules within which it operates? One of the first things a person would look at is the business’s memorandum and articles of association and its audited accounts. This is the same for investors in Ireland Inc. We must have a clear set of operating principles which we adhere to and we need to demonstrate that we act in a responsible manner.
There is a strong link between the stability treaty and the European Stability Mechanism. If we do not ratify the treaty, we will not have access to the ESM. We do not plan to need this fund but it is like an insurance policy — you might never need it but it is there when you want it. Having this protection will make us a much more attractive destination for international investment. However, if we do not ratify the treaty, markets will become much tougher and all of the progress we have made to date could be put in jeopardy. There have been several positive job announcements recently, including the announcement of 1,000 jobs in PayPal in Dundalk which will have positive benefits for parts of my constituency in Cavan and Monaghan. Ireland would not have won these jobs were we not a part of Europe and the eurozone. The current unemployment crisis would have been far worse had we turned our backs on Europe.
The agriculture and agrifood sectors are the backbone of our economy. They account for 300,000 jobs and are playing a vital role in our economic recovery. It is well recognised that our agriculture and agrifood industry needs Europe. I commend the IFA on clearly stating its support for the treaty. The IFA President, John Bryan, stated that any withdrawal by Ireland from a central role in Europe would have negative consequences in the short term and could potentially lead to Ireland’s isolation in the longer term. Members of the IFA executive council decided unanimously that it would be in the best interests of Irish families, the business community, including the agrifood sector, exports and jobs to vote “Yes” on 31 May. Successful CAP negotiations in the coming 12 to 18 months will be vital to Irish agriculture and the IFA president has said, “Influence and goodwill in Europe are necessary conditions to ensure the best outcome in these crucial negotiations”. I support the motion and earnestly call on people to vote “Yes” on 31 May.
Deputy Brian Stanley: I wish to share time with Deputy Colreavy. We propose to take ten minutes each. The Fine Gael-Labour Party Government signed up to the treaty on 2 March this year. The reason for the treaty is not to improve the situation for the people we represent. It is not to provide any assistance to our economic recovery. In fact, it will result in the opposite outcome. We are holding the referendum because the core EU member states, including Germany and France, wish to impose stricter fiscal restraints on the peripheral economies, including Ireland. The aim of the treaty is to strengthen the enforcement of existing rules and to impose some new rules on government deficits, debt and budgetary policy.
The treaty makes no political or economic sense. It is anti-jobs and anti-growth. Irish and international economists from the left, right and centre have challenged its credibility. There is a near consensus that it will do nothing to resolve the crisis underlying the euro and, worse, it may even deepen the recession throughout the EU. It does not deal with the explosion of private debt caused by bankers, developers and speculators that caused the current economic crisis in the country. This is a crucial point but the treaty does not deal with this issue in any way. However, it ensures that Joe and Mary Soap, the ordinary citizens of Ireland and Europe, will pay for it. It will impose greater levels of austerity on ordinary citizens for an indefinite period. One economist has estimated that it will require a further €6 billion of cuts and tax hikes post-2015 at a minimum. Since our structural deficit is expected to be 3.7% in 2015, which amounts to almost €6 billion, compliance with the balanced budget rule set down in the treaty will mean austerity budgets from 2015 onwards.
The austerity treaty will not solve the eurozone crisis nor will it fix the Irish economy. It will deepen the recession and lead to greater levels of instability at home and throughout Europe. The treaty will also mean a loss of economic, political and legal sovereignty for the State. It will make Government investment in economic recovery more difficult. At the same time it will force governments throughout the EU to contract their economies and shrink the export markets so important to the growth of the Irish economy. Everyone in the House agrees that the Irish economy is dependent on these markets for growth. Fully implementing the treaty will deepen the recession, increase unemployment and generate even greater levels of instability. The word “stability” has been referred to many times. Supporters of the treaty maintain that it will create stability. However, recessions cause instability. We have seen as much in Greece and to a lesser extent in this country.
Article 3 is the most important of the treaty. It holds that governments’ budgets must be balanced or in surplus. I have no wish to scaremonger. I read the treaty carefully and I went through it with a fine toothcomb. The article makes significant changes to the existing EU treaty rules on fiscal policy known as the Stability and Growth Pact. By placing the rules in an intergovernmental treaty they will become binding and permanent. If the treaty is ratified future governments will have to implement pro-austerity, anti-stimulus budgets in perpetuity. This significantly limits the freedom and decision-making powers of governments, including the current Government, irrespective of the size of the mandate they receive from the electorate. In times of economic growth the State will run a surplus and use that excess to pay down debt or invest in new infrastructure. At least, that is what should take place. The previous Fine Gael speaker referred to this but she does not appear to realise that the treaty will prevent the Government from doing so. In periods of recession, Governments should have the flexibility to borrow and invest to get people back to work and to get the economy back to growth.
The key provisions of Article 3 include a new structural deficit target of 0.5%, a restatement of the existing Stability and Growth Pact deficit target of 3%, a debt target of 60% of GDP and a requirement for States that breach these targets to return to them rapidly. It also means that the current Government will have to implement austerity budgets beyond 2015. This will result in the loss of political sovereignty. The treaty significantly strengthens the capacity of the European Commission to enforce member state compliance with the existing and new rules. Member states will be signing up to a new, legally binding obligation to automatically enter what is inappropriately termed an “economic partnership programme” when they are in breach of the rules. The content of such a programme will be determined by the European Commission and will be similar to the current EU-IMF austerity programme. This represents a significant increase in the powers of the commission at the expense of governments, including our Government.
The treaty will result in the loss of legal sovereignty because Articles 7 and 8 make three further changes. The treaty gives the European Court of Justice jurisdiction to determine whether member states are compliant with the debt and deficit rules. The treaty also allows one member state to take another member state to the European Court of Justice if it believes the member state in question has been in breach of the rules. It also allows the European Court of Justice to fine a member state 0.1% of GDP if it is found to be in breach of the rules. For the record, this would amount to €160 million in the case of this State based on our GDP.
Article 5 goes further and introduces new measures aimed at compelling member states in breach of the targets to take action deemed necessary by the commission and the council. There is a new obligation to enter a budgetary and economic partnership programme involving detailed structural reforms aimed at reducing debt and deficit levels. This is essentially the European version of the troika programme that member states will be legally obliged to accept when they breach the rules.
I wish to tackle the issue of what is known as the blackmail clause. We have been informed that voting against the treaty will mean we have no access to emergency funding in future. The blackmail clause is an empty threat being used to bully people into supporting a treaty that would not otherwise secure the support of the people. It has little or no legal force. It is not an article of the European Stability Mechanism treaty but a recital and it cannot be used to deny funding to a member state if to do so threatened the stability of the eurozone as whole.
There is a better way. Sinn Féin believes that the best way to avoid a second bailout is to cut waste, to implement fairer taxation, to abandon the failed policies of bank bailouts and austerity and to invest in jobs while writing down our debt. It is crucial that our debt is written down, including that associated with the promissory note.
Previous speakers referred to the mantra of “spend, spend, spend.” They may have been referring to the contributions of some of the Independent Members. We do not believe in spending for the sake of it. Spending must be done properly. We have done a good deal of spending in the past two years and it has gone down into big black holes. We have not got the jobs that should have resulted and we must be more careful about that. Sinn Féin opposes the treaty and we will campaign actively against it.
Deputy Brian Stanley: In fact, we were proved correct in our prediction that we would end up with a two-track Europe, with a strong inner core dominating the periphery. That is precisely what has happened, with the Franco-German alliance now calling the shots. If Deputy O’Donovan denies that, he is living in Alice in Wonderland territory. Moreover, we will not be on our own in campaigning against this referendum but will be joined by many organisations and trade unions. The treaty is a bad deal for Ireland and for ordinary Irish citizens.
Deputy Michael Colreavy: The so-called Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union is wrongly named. Instead it should be called a treaty to ensure the people of Ireland and other European Union states will suffer the consequences of bad decisions by the European Central Bank. Additionally, the treaty will enable the Government to claim a democratic mandate and the blessing of Irish voters in turning private debt into public debt. When the current economic crisis began to unfold, Sinn Féin argued that the best way for Ireland to steer its way back onto the path of recovery was a policy of investment in jobs and investment in our economy. Two Governments and several budgets later, the opposite policy has been and is being pursued. The economy is still in stagnation, hundreds of thousands are emigrating, unemployment is rising and ordinary people are falling further and further into debt. A policy of spending cuts coupled with the imposition of tax increases on low and middle-income earners, heralded by the Fianna Fáil-Green Party Government and championed by the current Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, has resulted in nothing but hardship and a deepening of the economic crisis. The Government now forecasts that one in ten people will be out of work by 2015. It is abundantly clear that the policy of austerity has failed miserably. Despite this, the Government is determined that this austerity treaty will be passed into Irish law. Its commitment to austerity, despite its clear failure, indicates that it has not learnt the lessons of recent years.
There can be no doubt that the treaty is a bad deal for Ireland. The austerity of recent years has sent the country into a spiralling decline of debt, emigration and economic depression. However, the Government is determined to continue on the same failed path. It is holding a candle, hoping that Europe in its current format will lead us to a more prosperous future. What it fails to recognise, or refuses to acknowledge, is that the hardship contained in the austerity treaty will cripple the people of this country. I agree that Ireland should be at the heart of Europe. Some people claim that Sinn Féin was never committed to the European ideal.
Deputy Michael Colreavy: I agree that Ireland should be at the heart of Europe, but we must do so by being assertive and independent and fighting our corner for the people of this State.  Ratifying this treaty, on the other hand, will lead only to further hardship. It will oblige the State to achieve a structural deficit of 0.5% when the current programme with the troika runs out in 2015. This will require a further €6 billion in expenditure cuts, which will affect hospitals, schools and transport. It also means that any talk of a future jobs stimulus is nonsense, a false hope. Instead we will sink further and further into economic depression. The austerity treaty will tie our hands behind our back when it comes to making the tough decisions that will have to be made. Our scope to make those decisions will be severely limited.
Deputy Michael Colreavy: The Government must realise that austerity does not work. Our banking system is in a state of disrepair and barely functional. Individual households are suffering under a huge burden of debt and tens of thousands of people are in severe mortgage arrears. The rules laid out in the austerity treaty are binding and permanent and will be given the protection of the Constitution. They can only be changed by a future referendum and only with the agreement of the other signatory states. How much damage will be done by the time the Government admits this treaty is a bad deal both for Ireland and for Europe?
The people of this country have faced enough austerity in recent years. Cutbacks have been made in education, health and social protection, to name but a few. Almost every person in this State, with the exception of the wealthy, has been touched by the austerity of the current and previous Governments. They are being asked to pay for a crisis they did not cause. The arrival of the troika representatives to these shores signalled a fresh wave of cuts, with no sign of an upturn in the economy. If this treaty is accepted it will place austerity into Irish law indefinitely. Irish people will be forced to pay for the mistakes of European banks to the detriment of their own welfare.
Ultimately, the austerity treaty attacks the very notion of Irish sovereignty and will lead to a further erosion of our political and legal sovereignty. It significantly strengthens the capacity of the European Commission to enforce member state compliance with the existing and new rules. Member states will have signed up to a legally binding obligation automatically to enter a so-called economic partnership programme when they are in breach of the rules. The content of these programmes will be determined by the European Commission and will be very similar to the current EU-IMF austerity programme. This is a significant increase in power for the European Commission at the expense of democratically elected parliaments and governments. The treaty attacks Ireland’s legal sovereignty by giving the European Court of Justice jurisdiction to determine whether member states are complying with the debt and deficit rules. Irish Governments will no longer be able to make decisions over the future funding of the State. As such, ratification will bring our national sovereignty further into question.
Deputy Michael Colreavy: It is a small issue compared with the enormous problems facing the national economy, but it shows that the Government is unable to fight for the rights of Irish citizens at a European level. How can the people trust a Government that tells them to vote “Yes” to the austerity treaty when all logical thought demonstrates that so doing would be bad for them and when that Government’s performance in representing the rights of Irish people on the European stage has been so abysmal?
Deputy Robert Dowds: As much misinformation has been spun by Sinn Féin and certain members of the Technical Group on what this treaty actually will do, it is important to set the record straight. Put simply, the fiscal stability treaty is part, and only part, of what must be done to stabilise and sort out the euro and is not a panacea for everything. One must remember the euro is our own currency, the stability of which is at stake, and the fiscal stability treaty will help to sort it out. As the euro is our currency, we are looking after ourselves in dealing with this issue. Not only does Ireland’s recovery depend on the stability of the euro due to the European Union being our biggest export market, but also Europe’s recovery depends on it. This is crucial to Ireland and Members may recall the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade alluding a number of times to the fact that one problem faced by Ireland in regenerating growth is uncertainty about the euro in general. Consequently, it is a matter of the utmost importance that the euro be stabilised, and Ireland has a critical part to play in this effort by passing this referendum. By securing the euro, Ireland will be helping to create a solid export base for itself, and as the only English-speaking country in the eurozone, this should yield significant trade dividends for it. For example, one might ask why the Chinese Vice President only visited Ireland during his trip to this part of the world. The trading bloc of which Ireland is a part must be stabilised and secured, and to do this, this referendum must be passed.
How will this treaty help people in Ireland? There are several answers to this question. First, it beefs up considerably economic and monetary union, thereby ensuring good, sound management of public finances. Second, the treaty is part of the six-pack of measures that will identify bubbles and unbalanced economies long before they implode, as did Ireland’s own economy. Had these measures been in place at the inception of the euro and had there been legislative oversight of Ireland’s public finances, there is no way the Fianna Fáil Party would have been allowed to run the country like a casino. As for what this treaty will do for Ireland, it will stabilise its currency and export base, help to create jobs and ensure sound and prudent management of the public finances. Moreover, as part of the six-pack of measures, it will prevent the recurrence of Fianna Fáil-style wild west public policy and help identify bubbles and nip them in the bud to create a more stable, secure economy on which one can build a more equal and caring society. There are those who argue that it restricts Ireland’s ability to take out loans and to run large Exchequer deficits. Lest anyone in Sinn Féin or the Technical Group has not been paying attention over the past year and a half, I emphasise that Ireland has arrived at a point at which it cannot secure affordable loans on the open market. Consequently, to state these measures will restrict Ireland is to ignore completely the fact that in the absence of such measures, Ireland is more restricted than it has ever been in respect of getting loans to finance investment.
The fiscal compact is needed to hold together the euro. One must recognise that with monetary policy centralised, some measure of co-ordination on fiscal policy with our partners in the euro is required. One also must remember that while Ireland’s current bailout is unaffected by this referendum, it specifically excludes access to further funding under the European Stability Mechanism, which is linked with ratification. Given the current circumstances of the country, one would be mad not to provide oneself with this insurance, and therefore a “Yes” vote is essential.
As I stated at the outset, this is only part of rather than being the entire solution. I believe strongly that in the long term, the ECB must perceive itself not simply as being responsible for controlling inflation but must take on a new role as an engine of growth and job creation. I commend both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste on driving forward this agenda at a European level. This is a conscious collective decision the entire European Union must take and I am hopeful this will happen when more progressive parties take power in France and Germany. Europe is at a turning point at which we either beef up the euro or retreat into our own currencies. In the world in which we live, we would be crazy to choose the latter because while the member states are such small entities in themselves, together we stand as a highly significant entity. For these reasons, I strongly advocate that we vote “Yes” in this referendum.
Deputy Michael McCarthy: In less than 44 days, the people of Ireland will go to the polls and vote on the fiscal compact treaty in what will be the most significant litmus test yet for our country’s relationship with the European project. Much debate and deliberation will take place between now and then on the pros and cons of the treaty, as it should in any vibrant and healthy democracy. I look forward to engaging in these discussions and fleshing out the various arguments on different sides as the opportunities arise. As the leader of my party, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Gilmore, so eloquently put it in this Chamber earlier today, “Ireland may be an island, but the borders of its trade, currency and workforce stretch across oceans.” It is a member of a 17 country currency, the eurozone and is part of a European market of 500 million people. In other words, one cannot ignore the basic fact that our nation is deeply embedded in the structures of the eurozone and that its economic future is intertwined with those of its counterparts within the project. The treaty is the latest manifestation of this relationship and is a crucial part of the architecture that has been built by eurozone leaders to address the sovereign debt crisis. Other stabilisation mechanisms already introduced include early warning systems, enhanced financial regulatory structures and bank recapitalisation requirements.
In short, the treaty aims to foster greater budgetary discipline and responsibility among eurozone countries by introducing various innovations such as the so-called golden rule, which for the first time ever will set a target on a country’s structural budget balance. In addition, contracting parties must observe medium-term objectives, namely, country-specific targets which take account of a country’s economic potential and implicit liabilities, such as those that arise from an ageing population and so on. Crucially, the ratification of the treaty will ensure contracting countries have access to the European Stability Mechanism, ESM. This would be a crucial part of Ireland’s toolkit, should there be a need to access it once the existing bailout program expires in 2014.
Contrary to much of the ill-conceived rhetoric being peddled by anti-treaty sides, this is anything but an austerity treaty. It is a stability treaty and its ratification is fundamental to the growth of the economy, to the creation of jobs and to the restoration of competitiveness, which was so badly eroded by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Administration. The treaty is the latest step in a sustained process of confidence rebuilding that has been taking place between Ireland and international investors in recent months. Today, 500 jobs were announced in Dublin and Galway. Other announcements have flowed in recent months from companies such as Datalogic, PayPal, SourceDogg and Eli Lilly, which is located in Kinsale in my constituency of Cork South-West. Such announcements have not arisen by coincidence but are the result of renewed political and economic stability in Ireland, brought about by a pan-European approach to solving the sovereign debt crisis and re-instilling fiscal discipline in countries. Investors and employers around the globe are enthused by Ireland’s story of recovery and in particular by what it has to offer them as a European base for business. However, they also need reassurance that Ireland is pursuing a sensible, disciplined budgetary agenda and is taking seriously the task of stabilising its economy after years of reckless mismanagement. Therefore, by ratifying this treaty, Ireland is sending a robust message to potential global investors that this is a country that is confident, united and is a place worthy of doing business and in which to create jobs. It is not the solution to the jobs crisis but will lock into the Government’s broader pro-jobs and pro-growth strategy and will send a strong signal to the world that Ireland is serious about stability.
The European Union, as we now know it, was born out of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was established under the Treaty of Rome in 1957, and the European Atomic Energy Community, which was set up in the same year under the EURATOM treaty. The European Union is the longest running and most successful peace process on the planet. Henry Kissinger once asked: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” We need a strong, balanced and reasonable debate, based on the content of the treaty and not on extraneous issues which others may wish to introduce. European relations with Ireland have never been better. In the short 13 or 14 months during which it has been in power, the Government has renegotiated the EU-IMF deal. That was a huge achievement for the country. The Government has also done a deal on the promissory notes, which is another example of how good relations are between Ireland and Europe.
Balanced democracy is not about assaulting gardaí or RTE cameramen, neither is it about the failure of certain Members of this House to dissociate themselves from thuggish and violent behaviour. It is instead about balanced and diverse views and robust debate. I would welcome such balance and diversity in the context of the debate on this Bill.
Deputy Dominic Hannigan: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to the debate on this important legislation. I wish to refer to the work carried out by the Joint Committee on European Affairs and the recently established Sub-Committee on the Referendum on the Intergovernmental Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union, both of which I chair. During the past two months, the latter has heard from a range of speakers who support and oppose the treaty. We have heard from various civil groups, such as the Irish National Organisation for the Unemployed, the Irish Farmers Association and the National Youth Council of Ireland, think tanks such as TASC, trade unions such as UNITE, and business groups such as IBEC, the Small Firms Association and Chambers Ireland. Representatives from these various organisations have all addressed the sub-committee and outlined their views on what the treaty means for Ireland. We have also heard the views of Irish political representatives. Yesterday, for example, we were addressed by the leaders of Fianna Fáil, the United Left Alliance, ULA, and the Labour Party. In addition, we have been addressed by Ireland’s MEPs. Furthermore, a range of economists, lawyers and academics from this country and several ambassadors from across Europe outlined to us what they believe the treaty will mean for the people of both Ireland and Europe.
The sub-committee has engaged in a diverse and productive series of debates and it will continue with these until the end of next week, when the Taoiseach is due to address it. The sub-committee will publish a report on its proceedings by mid-July and the aim is that this will provide a summary of the various arguments and positions outlined to it. It is not the intention for the sub-committee’s report to influence people into voting either “Yes” or “No”. In that context, we will not be making a recommendation. We will, however, be providing an unbiased, informative and easy-to-read summary of the evidence and main arguments presented to us.
During the debate on this matter, the same arguments have arisen time and again. I am of the view that the stability treaty does exactly what it says on the tin. Through improved fiscal responsibility and oversight we can ensure that there will be economic stability. We must be honest with the people: this treaty will not really introduce any new conditions. It will, however, ensure that the previously agreed six-pack will be put in place. One of the consequences of this is that larger European states will be prevented from having one set of rules for themselves and another set for the rest of us. More importantly, however, if the Irish people vote for the treaty, it will improve international investor confidence in this country, make a repeat of the current crisis less likely, assist in the process of European economic recovery and stability and give us access to the ESM should we need it.
Some individuals have stated that if we reject the treaty and if Article 136 of Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, TFEU, is thereby not amended, we can hold Europe to ransom and state that if we do not gain access to the ESM, then neither will the other member states involved. The sub-committee has heard from various sources that this will not prove to be the case and that Europe does not need Ireland in order to amend Article 136 and allow the ESM to take effect.
Informing people that there is no potential disbenefit in the context of voting against the treaty is both wrong and extremely dangerous. We do not want to be in a position whereby we cannot access the ESM if we need to do so. It is not the case that we will not lose out by rejecting the treaty. There are definite dangers in the context of rejecting it. Conversely, there are many benefits to be had by putting the treaty in place. I am of the view that voting “Yes” makes all the sense in the world. I cannot see any benefit from voting “No”. I will be leading my team in the constituency of Meath East in the context of trying to convince the people there to vote “Yes” in the referendum on the treaty. I have no doubt that it is going to be a tough campaign. However, once they have all the facts before them, the people will see that the treaty will help to create a stable environment, engender confidence in our economy and assist in attracting more jobs to our country.
Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. It is important to bear in mind what we are actually speaking about, namely, a question which is being put to the Irish people and which asks if the policies that created the difficulties being experienced by our economy can be avoided in the future. The treaty which is the subject of the referendum brings together the member states that use the euro as a common currency and ensures that the policies of such states will not in the future be able to impact on the stability of the currency. Europe could easily be criticised for the speed of its reaction to the current crisis, for the lack of certainty that existed for such a long period and for the fact that clear direction was not provided. This criticism could be justified because strong rules relating to the security of the currency were not in place.
Why vote “Yes” to the treaty? In my opinion the treaty offers member states the knowledge that in the event of their requiring assistance in the future, said assistance will be forthcoming. More importantly, however, it will prevent future administrations from doing what governments comprising Fianna Fáil, the Progressive Democrats and the Green Party did to this country. A “Yes” vote will inform the world that we value our place in Europe and that we are proud to be part of the most successful political entity — which supports peace, prosperity, fairness and equality — in the modern era. A “Yes” vote will also state that Ireland, more than any country, values the right of the people to have their say on issues of constitutional importance. It will also indicate that we, more than most, know how essential it is for governments to behave responsibly and live within their means.
A “Yes” vote will also state that while we are currently borrowing €75 euro per week in respect of every man, woman and child in the State, we will strive to regain our economic independence, we will play our part in ensuring that if any of our European colleagues require the help we needed in the past, such assistance will be available and we will see to it that a fair approach is taken in respect of those who find themselves in difficulty in the future. A “Yes” vote will ensure that unexpected events that may have a major bearing on a country’s economy, such as a crop failure or an ecological or some other disaster, can be worked through with the support of the other member states, recognising that it is not possible to legislate for disasters but also being mindful of the consequences that can arise if such disasters occur.
Why vote “No” to the treaty? In my view there is no reason to do so. The arguments that are being put forward by those on the “No” side are the same tired old versions that have been used by eurosceptics and extreme left-wing fundamentalists since the EU was founded. Given that every treaty has been endorsed by the Irish electorate, the “No” side has continually been proved wrong. On this occasion, the outcome will be no different. If we had listened to those on the “No” side in the most recent referenda, we would be obliged to ask ourselves whether communities that have been plagued by unemployment would have had access to, for example, the European Globalisation Fund. Some Deputies who are so vociferously opposed to the current treaty are also trying to ensure that moneys from the latter fund will be spent in their constituencies.
Those on the “No” side want to play Russian roulette with the Irish economy. It is clear to me and to everyone else on this side of the House that there is no plan B. Unlike on previous occasions, it is not the case that all member states must sign up to the treaty. If 12 countries sign up, then, as the Taoiseach stated, the train will leave the station. The “No” side is a mixum-gatherum of people who are fundamentally negative about everything. It would be a lonely, backward stroll into the unknown if we, with our small, open economy, were to reject the principle of balanced budgets, inform our colleagues in Europe that we are not prepared to play by the rules, tell investors that we are happy to go down the road previously travelled by Bertie Ahern et al, and declare to the world that Ireland is not open for business.
Those who state that the treaty contains only austerity measures clearly have not read it. Ironically, the treaty is largely opposed by those on the extreme left. The latter are now advocating the approach of the Ahern-McCreevy-Harney school of economics——
Deputy Patrick O’Donovan: ——namely, eat, drink and be happy and spend like there is no tomorrow and no rules either. The ULA, People Before Profit, the extreme socialists and Sinn Féin have found themselves to be the natural successors to the Progressive Democrats. They are a motley crew and they advocate that the Government should stay away from the issue of controlling expenditure and that governments should not impose rules. The philosophy of no rules, no regulation, no oversight and no consequences is what got us into this mess in the first instance. The new band of progressive democrats in this Dáil want that philosophy to be adopted once again.
Small, open economies such as Ireland’s do not have the luxury of operating in the so-called eurosceptic bubble. It is certain that the Marxist-Leninist-communist elements in this House would lead this country into a soviet-style economic winter if they got their way. It is a pity that the mask and balaclava, only recently removed from Irish politics and which clearly have no place in Ireland, re-emerged last weekend in such an ugly fashion. All democrats in this Dáil should oppose any element that tries to undermine the democracy of this State and condemn the thuggish elements that seek to conceal their identity while attacking members of An Garda Síochána.
This is an important treaty for the people of Ireland in constituencies around the country in telling the world that Ireland is open for business. We want inward investment and to be at the centre of Europe. We want a stable currency, balanced budgets and our people back to work in an economy built on a rock-solid foundation rather than the sand that was so easily washed away in 2008. This is a treaty concerning the future of this country and it is not about the extraneous issues which some people will drag into this Chamber. It has nothing to do with most of what we will hear in the next couple of minutes from some of the speakers lining up behind me. It is about the type of future we want for the coming generations and in my opinion, the only route this country must take is a clear and resounding “Yes” vote. It is “Yes” to Ireland being at the centre of Europe and “Yes” to getting our people back to work.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: It is ironic that the Government was visited by the vice president of the Chinese dictatorship, which is brutally suppressing democracy and civil rights, and it is putting out the begging bowl to that regime while willing to disregard the rights of the mass of Chinese people suffering under that dictatorship.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: This fiscal treaty is based on dishonesty and stupidity. The dishonesty comes from opinion on the causes of the crisis in the first place, which it is claimed the treaty is trying to address. Any honest assessment of the beginnings of the crisis would indicate that the European Central Bank’s interest rate policy of pumping cheap money into the peripheral countries, with a mantra of competition and deregulation of financial markets, were two major causes. This treaty does not address such issues at all and instead the compact is dictated by precisely the ECB and EU authorities who promoted the policies that caused the crisis. It is also being promoted by political parties, such as Labour, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who told us during the debates on the Lisbon treaty that we should vote for those changes because they would give us jobs and economic stability. It was precisely the policies of the ECB as set out in those treaties and the policies of deregulation of markets, including unrestrained competition in those markets, that led directly to the crisis.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: This treaty continues with the same failed doctrine and dogma which is being promoted by the bodies which told us the untruths that led to such disastrous consequences. There is a major issue of credibility for the people on the “Yes” side who told us all those untruths during the debates on the Nice and Lisbon treaty debates, including the European authorities, the ECB or the political parties, such as Labour, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The dishonesty continues with the German Finance Minister who said, in trying to promote this treaty, that it is undisputed among economists worldwide that one of the main causes, if not the main cause, of the turbulence not just now but in 2008 was excessive public debt everywhere in the world. Is that true? The Minister knows it is not, and the figures bear it out, especially in Ireland’s case.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: In 2003, Irish central Government debt to GDP was 34%; in 2004 and 2005 it was 33%; and in 2006 and 2007 it was 29%. That is almost half of the debt to GDP ratio demanded.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: The Minister accepts this. Why are we bringing in a treaty focusing on those issues rather than the actual causes of the economic crisis? In order to pay back bankers, speculators, German and French banks and bondholders, we must meet deficit and debt targets; it is to recover gambling losses at our expense. The consequences will be devastating if we must meet these targets. After we get out of the troika programme, we will need approximately €6 billion in austerity cuts and measures, and if this fiscal compact kicks in by 2015, we will need approximately 5% cuts in spending annually for four years in order to meet targets.
Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: All of these cuts will be dictated by the European Commission if we step outside the targets. The Commission will dictate timescales and the size of cuts. They are unelected bureaucrats who caused the crisis in the first place. The Government wants to give them power to dictate the cuts.
Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: I have listened to numerous Fine Gael and Labour Deputies give reasons for a “Yes” vote today, and they have ranged from the very reasonable from Deputy Hannigan to the comedic and farcical from Deputy O’Donovan, who seemed happy to throw stones but scuttled off as soon as anybody looked to stand up and reply.
Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: I suggest that Fine Gael invest in some training in political and social philosophy for some of the backbenchers. It might clarify the fact that they have joined a party which is centre-right and is gradually drifting further right. That is what their policies represent. The Deputies from Labour and Fine Gael have given some reasons to vote “Yes” but they have repeatedly stated there are no reasons to vote “No”. Of course there are reasons to vote against the compact, although I am not here to advocate voting in such a way. There are reasons to vote “Yes” and equally there are reasons to vote “No”. When the Government states there are no reasons to vote “No” but there are reasons to vote “Yes”, it does a disservice to the Irish people.
Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: I will do so. Why would somebody consider a “No” vote? I have considered the six pack, the Stability and Growth Pact and the fiscal compact. I have some background in economics, although I am not an economist and do not have a PhD in economics. I do not understand their complexity, although I get them at a basic level. There is a wide range of deeply complex economic measures in there. This will shift power from politicians towards technocrats, a dangerous development on which we must keep an eye. Compliance is becoming so technical that it will require a PhD in economics which most elected representatives do not have. The structural deficit is an example of this problem. The structural deficit requirement of 0.5% is one of the main metrics in the fiscal treaty, yet economists cannot agree on what is a structural deficit. That is the level of complexity being introduced and it is bad news.
Deputy Ruairí Quinn: I apologise for interrupting but surely economists cannot agree on the metric of the structural deficit. They are not in any doubt as to the concept of a structural deficit. There is a difference.
Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly: They cannot even measure the structural deficit. We are about to sign up to a serious treaty that requires compliance with a structural deficit target that no one can measure, which is crazy.
Compliance will lock in austerity. Various Deputies referred to not repeating the mistakes of the past. The point of the treaty is to lock in an austerity based approach from where we are now. The treaty is characterised by gunboat diplomacy and reminds me of the conversation we had about the bonds when we were told to pay the bondholders. We are being told to sign the treaty and, although it may not be in the interests of the country, the country will be destroyed if we fail to do so because we will be locked out of access to the European Stability Mechanism and the European Central Bank will withdraw its emergency liquidity assistance and collapse our banking system. This destroys the principle of solidarity on which the Europe of which I am proud to be part has been built. We have seen a dangerous trend in this direction in recent years.
Unfortunately, the threat to lock out access to the European Stability Mechanism is enshrined in the treaty. This is the only reason I can find to vote “Yes” and it is a powerful one. Notwithstanding assurances that we will not need access to the mechanism, having such access, even if we do not draw down funding, is very important. While there are many reasons to vote “No”, I can find only one very powerful reason to vote “Yes”. The Government has proffered a series of reasons for approving the treaty. Just a few hours ago in Baldoyle, the Taoiseach stated that ratification of the European Union fiscal stability treaty would represent an insurance policy against future mismanagement of the country’s finances. He added that approval of the treaty would provide “a guarantee that no Government of the future will ever again run riot either with the people’s fortunes or with the people’s money.” He continued, “I hope that business leaders and more particularly, those who work in businesses. . . will be able to say quite openly that they believe in what they do, they appreciate the work and the employment that these firms give and for that reason they want that to continue and will as a consequence vote ‘Yes’.” These are serious statements to make to citizens. The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, had an extraordinary article published in The Irish Times on Monday which echoed some of the sentiments expressed by the Taoiseach. In the article, he linked a “Yes” vote to continued troika and ECB funding of our banking system through the emergency liquidity assistance programme. These claims are not true and I encourage the Government to stop engaging in this type of scare-mongering.
The treaty will not stop us repeating the mistakes of the past, which were made during the bubble when Ireland was fully in compliance with the main provisions of the treaty. For the Taoiseach and various Deputies to argue that ratifying the treaty will avoid the mistakes of the past is untrue and they should not make such statements. They also argue that the treaty will create jobs, which is not the case. The treaty means we are forced into a programme of debt pay-down and a budget balancing mechanism. While we can argue about whether this is the correct approach, it most certainly means that money will not be available for a large-scale stimulus which would create jobs. While it is possible that a “No” vote could destroy even more jobs, the Government should stop making statements that the treaty will create new jobs. It is highly irresponsible to link approval of the treaty to troika and ECB funding and I ask members of the Government to stop engaging in this type of scare-mongering.
An argument is made that the treaty will improve stability. I do not believe it will improve stability for Ireland at this juncture. The analogy that comes to mind is a fit triathlete — the German economy — and someone who has just come out of intensive care — sadly, this is Ireland being told to run five miles per day, have a balanced diet, avoid ice cream and so forth. While requiring the triathlete to follow this advice may make sense, requiring a recovering patient who has just left intensive care to do so could kill him. Ireland will not be in a position in the next two or three years to comply with the rules of the treaty. As such, attempting to do so could lead to further instability because the economy is not growing as planned and jobs are not being created as we would wish. Ultimately, this will bring us to a bad place to which we do not want to go, namely, the possibility of engaging in a forced restructuring of sovereign debt, a scenario that would cause more instability than anything we have discussed in this debate.
Deputy John Halligan: Certain Deputies should be careful about using terms such as “extreme right” or “extreme left” to label other Deputies. I happen to be a socialist and I was candid about my policies during the general election campaign. I engaged openly with people in Waterford about who I am and what I stand for, as the Minister has done on many occasions. People were comfortable with that and I was elected to the House. Branding me as “extreme left” is out of order. I am what I am, unlike other Deputies who made all sorts of promises and got themselves elected to the House on the basis of lies. I wanted to clarify that matter for a former Deputy.
My difficulty with the treaty is that by voting “Yes”, I would be gambling with the future of the coming generations because I would be supporting a decision to cede an extraordinary degree of control over economic and fiscal policies from elected governments to unelected bureaucrats and judges in the European Commission in Brussels and European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.
Deputy John Halligan: Many people share my view. They are not happy with how Europe is run and believe it is completely undemocratic. While this may be one of the reasons people will vote “No”, they should vote on the basis of what the treaty does and I believe that will happen.
Supporting the treaty’s demand for a balanced budget and fines of hundreds of millions of euro for countries which breach targets will impose crippling austerity regardless of which Government is elected or what mass movements develop against austerity, as I fully expect will occur in this country. The condition in the fiscal treaty that forbids access to the new European Stability Mechanism rescue fund to any nation which does not approve the treaty is nothing short of bullying and a tactic to force Irish people to vote in favour of the fiscal compact. Many people are anxious to learn the reason the Government quietly agreed to insert such a clause in the treaty in a change from what was agreed in July of last year. The Government continues to have a veto over this blackmail clause.
Building the campaign overwhelmingly on a message of scare-mongering, as the Government is about to do, is shameful behaviour by elected representatives and undermines the principle of democracy. The same holds for the fiscal compact, which denies the right of member state to run a structural budget deficit of more than 0.5%. Has the democratic right of national parliaments to decide national budgets been removed? If so, what is the purpose of the Oireachtas? Should we not bother to introduce a budget this year or next year and allow the European Union to do so on our behalf? The structural deficit requirement is outrageous.
Many people believe the hype that a “Yes” vote will guarantee that the mistakes that led to the economic crash in 2008 will never be repeated. The debt to GDP ratio of 60%, general government deficit ceiling of 3% and new 0.5% structural deficit rule would have made little difference if they had been in place in Ireland prior to 2008. As it happens, in 2007 the general government balance was 0.3%, the structural balance was 2.3% and our debt to GDP ratio was 24.8%. In short, we were already completely compliant with the various components proposed under the fiscal treaty.
Deputy John Halligan: Exactly. The Minister is quick to tell the Irish people that our lifeline will be cut off if we do not vote “Yes”. I believe the treaty commits Ireland to years and years of austerity, further unemployment and cuts in benefits. There is no question about that and there is no point in denying it. We heard too much before the election that this would not happen and that this Government would not bring in austerity measures. The Minister said it himself in every television programme and everywhere he was in a debate. There is no question in my mind that the people have to ask themselves whether this will happen if we vote “Yes”. There is no question about that and I think the Government should be honest. Its members should not come in here and tell us we are not going to face further austerity over five or six years, that we are not going to face high unemployment rates and that we are going to face economic growth; we are not. All the indications across Europe suggest otherwise, including what all the top economists are saying, irrespective of what way we vote on the treaty. That is what we are facing for the next few years.
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: This referendum on 31 May is a question that is being put to the people. It is the most important question on which the Irish people have been asked to vote since the foundation of the State. I was disappointed with Deputy Donnelly when he said he did not know whether he would vote “Yes” or “No”. He should have told us why he was going to vote “Yes”, but he did not.
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: You would do well to listen, Deputy Flanagan, rather than procrastinate and so on. The stability treaty offers a clear set of rules, not just to the people of Ireland, but to the European Union, to make sure we learn from the mistakes which have led us to where we are today, and that we will never again be in this position.
Deputy John Halligan: It is not fair to make an outrageous comment like that. I do not want to see my country fail. I am not going to have any Deputy say that to me. A Cheann Comhairle, you should respect those on this side of the House and not allow that to happen. I do not want to see my country fail——
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: There are people who want to see this country fail, who want to see this Government fail, and who are not prepared to play a part in the recovery of the country. These are the facts, irrespective of whether people like them. This treaty has three main provisions which relate to the balanced budget rule, the debt brake rule and the arrangements of the eurozone governments. Let us have a debate on the issue of the treaty, not on ideology, not on bogs, not on septic tanks, not on water meters, but on the treaty and on Europe. Let us have that debate. Much of this treaty is already in place. Crucially, however, the treaty addresses one of the major failures of the Stability and Growth Pact, because large member states will no longer be permitted to avoid the consequences of breaching the rules by ganging up to out vote the smaller member states. That is important. It is important that the same rules apply to Ireland as apply to Germany or to France.
There have been many comments on the European Stability Mechanism and the member states. Deputy Donnelly has a viewpoint. The reality is that there is a guaranteed fund available for emergency loans to countries which need financial assistance. We must ratify the treaty. We have an obligation to do so. Our Government’s expressed intention is that we will not need access to the European Stability Mechanism in the future, but we need to have that availability open to us. The ability to access the fund is an important insurance policy. I would like to ask a question of the Members opposite who are opposed to whatever their ideology stands against. Where would we be as a country if we did not have access to the EU, the IMF and the ECB?
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: I am not; I am posing a question. Some of the Members opposite are very good at scaring. We saw some of that behaviour last weekend in Galway. They were on the public airwaves and they denounced nothing and saw nothing. They were really conflicted. Let us have a debate about Europe and where we want to be. Let us not allow the same old arguments to continue by the crowd opposite who were opposed and by the crowd opposite who were for. Let us have a real debate about what it is to be in Europe.
Some of the Members opposite will say this is about austerity. It is not about austerity. The Government’s overall budget terms have been agreed with the troika and we are committed to reducing our deficit to 3% by 2015. People will be told the treaty bans future stimulus measures, but it does not. The treaty allows flexibility and it allows for stimulus measures. The treaty provides that a Government may deviate from the balanced budget rules “in periods of severe economic downturn...” so long as “...it does not endanger fiscal stability in the medium term.”
Deputy Jerry Buttimer: The treaty calls for governments to act sensibly. We have paid a price for the recklessness of the previous 14 years. We accept this is not the answer to everything, but it is an attempt to stop the repeat of what has happened. By voting “Yes”, we ensure we have a strengthened Europe. By voting “Yes”, we ensure we have a message of hope, which Deputy Murphy said we do not have. I will not even go down the road of what Deputy Higgins said this afternoon, because I do not have time for it. Let us stop making the outlandish claims, the hyperbole and feigning indignation and anger. Let us have a debate about what is important for our people for stopping emigration and creating jobs. Let us have a real debate about that. Let us stop this feigning on local radio about being real Irish people. We are all Irish people and we are all proud to be Irish, but let us stop the crying about whatever. Let us stand up and be counted. Let us put the people of Ireland first and not our little fiefdoms in our constituencies.
Deputy Tom Hayes: Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle, for allowing me to have my say this evening on this very important Bill. The Bill gives effect to the referendum on the Treaty on Stability, Co-ordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union. The main purpose of the treaty is to create greater discipline among member states right across Europe. Fiscal discipline is not new to the EU, but is something that has lacked enforcement and leadership in the past. Member states which signed up to the euro had to meet the Maastricht criteria and the Stability and Growth Pact was put in place to ensure the participating countries observed the rules. The pact obliged members to practice prudent fiscal policies and more particularly to maintain broadly balanced national budgets over the economic cycle. The failure of the European Council to apply sanctions against countries such as France and Germany when they breached the criteria showed a complete disregard for the rules that had been put in place, and that caused major problems. In the case of Germany, it used its size and power to reach a compromise regarding its budget deficit and therefore avoided any sanctions.
What this treaty aims to do is to foster long-term budgetary discipline in the EU and the euro area. The treaty will reinforce the Stability and Growth Pact and it will also promote greater economic governance and fiscal discipline. The decision to use the six pack and various other types of votes to reverse an agreed programme ensures that states which exceed the permissible deficits will find it more difficult to escape punishment. The deficit rule will require countries to ensure that public debts are kept at safe levels which is to be set at 60% of GDP. Economic research on this level has shown that anything in excess of this figure would have a negative effect on jobs and economic growth. That is what this must be about, particularly given the situation in which this country finds itself.
The main difference between this treaty and the existing provisions in EU regulations is that these rules will be implemented into national legislation and will require greater self-discipline by the participating countries. By endorsing this treaty we as a country are sending a strong and positive message to the world, as this treaty will contribute to our recovery, ensure economic stability for our country and will contribute greatly to the restoration of confidence in Ireland, which has been at a desperately low ebb for the past number of years. Young people who have left our shores and emigrated to Australia, America, Canada, England and even to mainland Europe are looking to us to do something to change our economy and make this a better place for them, to make their homeland that they so love a place to which they can return and get a job. Too often in recent years we have seen highly educated young people leave these shores and this has had an impact on GAA clubs, rugby clubs and soccer clubs. Two young lads will leave my village next week. They are on the local GAA team and their leaving will be a loss to our community.
While young people may want to go away and see the world, what they want us to do is to make sure that when return to our shores they can get a job and that they have an opportunity like each and every one of us in this House has. That is what is important. That is the responsibility of us in government. While Members can say what they want when in opposition and that is their job, those in opposition have not been constructive in the past 12 months in their attitude to the people who have left our shores. Being constructive in that respect is the important point that we need to stress and that is what these people are seeking. It is very easy to use septic tanks and every other excuse one can think of to embarrass the Government. In the next six or eight weeks the Members of this House should show leadership, do what is good for Ireland, do what is good for our young people and show our determination to do that in a realistic way by making sure that in four years time when we leave this House to go to the country we will have it in a better place.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: I am delighted to contribute to this debate. I am surprised that Deputy Donnelly is undecided because he is normally a man of great certainty. I know him as a fellow financial economist and I have no doubt if he was advising a client in the morning and Ireland Inc., or the Irish Government was the client, he would advise everyone to vote “Yes” for the treaty. He is increasingly entering the world of politics and on something like the fiscal compact treaty one has to be careful not to veer too much into the political side away from reality, the pragmatic position and what this fiscal compact treaty will do for Ireland. I see it in very simple straightforward terms. By voting “Yes” one will get certainty. People can agree or disagree but one will get certainty that one has the insurance policy of the ESM fund. I hope we never have to access it but it is an insurance policy. It gives certainty to multinationals considering investing in Ireland in that one of the key ingredients investors seek is certainty. They will get certainty if we vote “Yes” for the fiscal compact treaty. They get much more certainty than if we vote “No”. Those on the “No” side never say exactly what will happen if one votes “No”. The referendum on the fiscal compact treaty requires a proper debate——
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: ——not one that is politically oriented but in terms of the hard facts. The public want it to be based on facts. People are aware that under the IMF-EU programme there are major constraints. We have to get down to under 3% of debt to GDP by 2015. Deputy Donnelly and I agree that too much debt is effectively an anti-growth measure in itself. It is a regressive measure. We need to get our debt down.
What is in the fiscal compact treaty is no different from what we already signed up under the six pack last December bar there are issues in terms of imposing fines and other elements to it. In the main, it is the same.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: The structural deficit is 0.5% and that is an issue to be measured. We have to get our debt to GDP ratio down to 60% and that will be done over a period of time. What needs to be explained to people is that this is not about getting debt levels down to 60% of gross domestic product overnight. We have to bring down by one twentieth per year the difference between the 60% and what the debt level is.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: Once again the Deputy is not presenting all the facts. Growth will be a key ingredient. If we achieve a reasonable level of growth, that will take care of that particular measure. Furthermore, as the Deputy will be well aware, most debt is never repaid by governments, they roll over the debt. We are in a difficult bind at present. We are in the IMF-EU programme and to access funding we have to borrow from that programme. We cannot borrow at any sort of reasonable rates on the international markets.
Our objective is twofold. We have to balance the books and the position in terms of the fiscal compact is difficult but we already have to balance the books. It is like getting funding from anywhere when one is overstretched, we have to bring the debt back to a manageable form, which is good housekeeping. Second, it will enable us to put in place the ingredients that are necessary for us to re-enter the markets. I want us to regain our financial sovereignty. Why would they give us money if our debt levels are very high and we are running a large overdraft on an annual basis?
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: I know what will happen when we vote “Yes”. If we vote “Yes” we are putting in place in a structured form what we have already agreed; it is good housekeeping. We also get a guarantee, if required, as an insurance policy, that we will have access to the ESM, if we need it. If we vote “No” we are in a situation where there is a huge degree of uncertainty for both Ireland and Europe.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: That is right. If 12 member states wish to go ahead, they can do so. If Deputy Donnelly was advising people, would he advise them to vote “Yes” or “No”? I think he would advise them to vote “Yes”.
Deputy Kieran O’Donnell: The example I gave is that of multinational companies that wish to set up here. Multinational companies look for certainty in any market. With the fiscal compact in place, they get it.
We have already brought in very difficult measures so I commend the Bill to the House. Deputy Donnelly is a reasonable man and when he looks at the cold facts of the case in a pragmatic way, he will come out and extol a “Yes” vote to ensure we have the certainty we so desperately need.
Fianna Fáil is a pro-EU party because we believe it is the only credible context in which the small, peripheral country of Ireland can succeed. Many people are suffering today because of the impact of the recession, unemployment is very high and living standards are under pressure but we must be honest and acknowledge that since 1973 Ireland has benefited greatly from being in the EU. Being an active member is always more beneficial than being on the outside. Membership of the EU gives security for those wanting to invest and opportunities for those who want to export. The EU remains an immense force for good in areas such as equality, education and working conditions.
It is important, however, to note that because we are pro-EU does not mean we are uncritical. There are issues we will be highlighting in that context. There is a duty on all those who want the Union to work to improve it and address its shortcomings. We support the fiscal treaty not because it is the answer to Europe’s problems but because it is an essential part of the answer, although not a major part. A stronger and more transparent set of budgetary rules for countries sharing the euro is part of what most experts say is required to secure long-term access to debt markets at affordable rates. It is important not just from Ireland’s point of view but because we wish to see other countries involved in the mechanism following the rules. It is no good Ireland being a good European — sometimes too good — if some of the other, mainly Mediterranean, countries are not observing the rules. This is not just to place strictures on the Irish economy, it is to ensure the same strictures will apply to other people. We need to have that confidence as a country.
The contents of this treaty are entirely consistent with what we signed up to in the Maastricht treaty 20 years ago. Many people will say it is a panacea to all of our ills but we should not over-claim the benefits of the treaty. It is important to acknowledge that it would not have prevented our problems and cannot be presented as a measure that will ensure the crisis never happens again. There is nothing in the treaty to prevent another banking crisis and had it been in force five years ago, it would not have prevented the banking crisis then. Nothing in the treaty could have prevented the build-up of our national debt, which is a big part of what is involved in the treaty. The treaty does not even purport to deal with those issues and it is important that people should not make exaggerated claims about it.
The treaty must form part of a wider effort to address the euro’s faults. We need to propose reform of the European Central Bank. Every time I have spoken on this issue in recent months, I have said the ECB must be reformed, with more unified financial regulation and an increased budget to provide for investment in the regions and areas with high and rising unemployment. In the midst of this unprecedented crisis, the European Union must be willing to change to reflect the new situation. The treaty is a fair and reasonable part of a broader response to the crisis. It will have a direct and positive impact on Ireland and Fianna Fáil is committed to its ratification.
Before we get lost in the specifics, the stability treaty was signed on behalf of the Government by the Taoiseach in Brussels on 2 March 2012. A total of 25 of the 27 members of the EU have signed this and we now have each of the individual countries ratifying it. There are 27 countries in the EU, two have said they are staying out, the U.K. and the Czech Republic, which leaves 25 member states. There are 17 eurozone states, which means approximately eight countries that are not in the eurozone but that are in the EU will also be part of this stability treaty. That makes a nonsense of the claim by the Tánaiste on “The Week in Politics” on Sunday when he said the treaty is all about the euro. He was wrong when he said that. The euro is very important but several countries are signing up to the treaty that are members of the EU but that are not eurozone members. It was wrong for the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to tell the Irish people this treaty is all about the euro. It has a lot to do with the euro but there are many other aspects involved in it and it encompasses countries that are not involved in the euro. At the moment polls suggest a majority favour the passing of the referendum but it will be important those on the Government side do not display the same arrogance, assuming they can tell the people what they feel like hearing in advance of polling day and expect them to swallow it. They did not swallow it in the referendum on Oireachtas committees last autumn because of some of the things the Minister for Justice and Equality said. I ask the Tánaiste to withdraw and clarify that comment because we are now at the start of the campaign and he is putting out a message after his party’s annual conference on prime time television and already he is misleading and not speaking accurately about the purpose of this stability treaty and I call on him to correct that. If he and other Ministers continue to make wild political statements that might be half right or substantially right, that is not good enough. People want complete accuracy and if people feel Ministers are not speaking accurately, we should not be surprised if they react accordingly.
The notice was published in the Dáil today that deals with the details of the ballot paper that will be issued to people to vote. I will not read it out because everyone will see it. It will ratify the treaty signed in Brussels on 2 March 2012 and states that no provision of our Constitution invalidates law enacted, Acts done or measures adopted by the State that are necessitated by obligations of the State under that treaty, or prevents law enacted having force of law in the State. We are asking people to vote “Yes” if they support that. It is important that when there is a referendum that people should be asked to vote “Yes” to show their assent.
However, people will ask about the obligations under the treaty. One is bound to worry when one hears the person who might be the next President of France say he wishes to make changes to the treaty. What happens if there are changes to it? We have been told it is not open to negotiation but what happens if Ireland votes for the treaty on 31 May and France succeeds in some renegotiation of it under the new government, if there is a new government, later this year? Will we be obliged to set aside the result of our referendum and return to it again? Will we have to get legal advice as to whether the changes are important? It will then be back to the Attorney General and, inevitably, before the Supreme Court. It is important that it be clarified that no country will be able to change the treaty in its lifetime, which is in perpetuity as the agreement contains no end date.
This brings me to the issue of how the Government is handling this matter. While people are for the treaty, if the Government does not handle the referendum properly, it could face the possibility of not getting a “Yes” vote on polling day. There must be an effort to get a “Yes” result, but the Government is already going about it in the wrong way. I mentioned the remarks of the Tánaiste, Deputy Eamon Gilmore, at the weekend. When we arrived at the Dáil today we received a document in the post referring to the further Revised Estimates for 2012 for the Department of An Taoiseach. These were published today and will be discussed by the sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, which has responsibility for the Department of An Taoiseach. The Taoiseach will appear before the sub-committee tomorrow, which will approve the Revised Estimates for his Department. It is the first Department to revise its Estimates for this year and the only reason it is happening is that there is an allocation in the Revised Estimates of €4.2 million, under subheading A6, to be spent on the referendum on the EU fiscal stability treaty.
The briefing note received by members of the sub-committee states that the Government will distribute a treaty guide to every household in the State during the first week of May to ensure the public is well informed. Obviously, arrangements are already in place so the printing must have been done. Some company, which I hope will be An Post, will deliver it to every house, rather than the fiasco that happened with the leaflets relating to the household charge which were not delivered to every house. I hope a competent company is doing the job. This the first time the full text of the treaty in both Irish and English will be circulated to every household. It will be a complicated document, although I understand each version of it only runs to 17 A4 pages. This will be followed by the distribution of an information leaflet in mid-May. A sum of €2 million from the €4.2 million provision is for the information campaign.  Obviously that is being directly run by the Government to distribute the factual information. There will also be a comprehensive on-line campaign, including a website dedicated to information on the treaty and the use of social media. This is the briefing note the Taoiseach will read to the sub-committee tomorrow.
The Referendum Commission has been established and planning for its campaign is under way. However, under the Referendum Act 1998, the commission is unable to incur any expenditure until the referendum Bill is passed later this month. A total of €2.2 million has been allocated for the Referendum Commission. We must now rush through the Revised Estimates on Friday morning because by the time the legislation is passed by the Dáil and the Seanad next week, there will only be a month to the referendum. The Referendum Commission, which should be in existence for much longer than a month, has no legal authority to incur any expenditure, so somebody has been doing all that work behind the scenes and the commission will obviously rubber stamp it and authorise payment for it next week. However, until that happens next Friday, the Referendum Commission cannot engage in any expenditure.
It is a rushed way of doing business. This could have been done two months ago and the information campaign should be under way now. It will get very helter-skelter during the month of May. It will be a big rush. In addition to the leaflets being sent to the houses, the Referendum Commission will publish its information which will also be circulated. The polling cards will also be sent to houses. There will be a great deal of activity and it is all very rushed. The €4.2 million is additional to the cost of holding the referendum, such as the cost of manning the polling stations and the count centres on the day after the referendum. I am not sure what the overall cost will be but I am sure the Taoiseach will outline it tomorrow.
One of the most important issues people are concerned about at European level is what I call the democratic deficit. This has increased recently. There have effectively been bloodless coups with the removal of the governments of Greece and Italy, two democratically elected governments, by the European financial power brokers at the European Commission and the European Central Bank. The governments were removed without an election. That is very rare and most unusual. There are now unelected governments in those countries and that adds to the democratic deficit. At home, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, adds to it when he says he has no faith in referenda. He said they are not very democratic. Indicating a lack of respect for people’s critical assessment of these issues, he said they will talk about anything and everything under the sun rather than the content of what they are being asked to vote on. It is another condescending remark. Such remarks are among the reasons that referenda are lost in Ireland. It is important that the Government is coherent and gets its act together. It is already behind the clock, given that there are only a few weeks to go.
As I said earlier, the ECB’s mandate must be reformed and strengthened, and it must operate more like the Federal Reserve in the United States. I wish to refer to some other points that have not been mentioned. There is no mechanism in the treaty for a country to exit the stability pact. That is one of its flaws. A country should have the right to exit if it wishes to do so in ten, 20 or 30 years’ time, but there is no mechanism to do so without collapsing the entire process. There is no mechanism for how to respond if a country seeks a modification to the treaty. As I mentioned, the potential incoming head of state in France might choose to do this, and I do not know where our referendum will stand in that situation.
The treaty provides that a country’s deficit shall not exceed 3% of gross domestic product, GDP, and the government debt should not exceed, or is sufficiently declining towards, 60% of GDP. They are the targets in the treaty and fines can be imposed by the European Court if they are not reached. Countries whose government debt exceeds 60% of GDP must reduce their debt by an average of one twentieth per year as a benchmark. This is a critical issue. In its effort to secure a “Yes” vote the Government must produce financial projections. This is a financial treaty, but I have seen no proper documents aside from long wordy pages.
I do not have time to quote remarks made by Brian Lucey, either on his website or to the Oireachtas committee yesterday, about the trajectory of our national debt. Most countries that have signed up to the treaty will not have a problem bringing their debt down over a 20-year period to 60% of GDP. However, Ireland’s debt is at 120% so we must reduce it by 60% over those 20 years. Therefore, we can have no deficit and must run a surplus of at least 3% per annum to reduce our debt under this agreement. That will amount to €3 billion or €4 billion per annum for the 20 years after we exit the IMF bailout and the transitionary period. I asked the Oireachtas research service what country in the world has ever reduced its national debt by 60% in 20 years. It could not find any country that has ever done it aside from Ireland during the Celtic tiger economy. However, we now know that some of the figures produced at that time were a mirage. No country in the developed or undeveloped world has been able to achieve that target.
The Government must set out how Ireland will live for the next 25 years if it is to meet the debt reduction targets. Deputy Kieran O’Donnell said earlier that countries do not usually pay off their debt but simply roll it over. However, this agreement ensures that a country must reduce its debt. Germany has not paid its debts from World War II but we are expected to reduce our debt over 20 years. No other country in the west has been asked to do that. The details of that must be spelt out. Inflation and growth might make the job easier, but one cannot assume there will be major growth in the years ahead.
The treaty contains a provision for a country that does not join up by 1 March 2013 to join subsequently. On the last page of the treaty there is a provision whereby a country that has not signed up by then is free to enter at a later stage. That would include the United Kingdom and the Czech Republic. I know there can be no renegotiation by a small country, but could Ireland vote “Yes” in 2013 or subsequently and join at a later date? Even if we are not on the train when it leaves the station we can get on at a stop down the line. Article 15 says, the treaty will be open to accession to member states other than those who have already signed up to it. Article 15 makes provision for countries to join at a later date. That is important.
The voting arrangements must be clarified. If a country is in breach of its agreement under the treaty, Article 7 says its obligation shall not apply where it is established among the contracting parties whose currency is the euro that a qualified majority of them, calculated by analogy with the relevant provisions of the EU treaties on which the European Union is founded...is opposed to the decision proposed or recommended. The treaty, therefore, contains a new arrangement for a qualified voting majority to decide if a country is in breach of the terms of the treaty. The number of countries and the percentage of member states and of the EU population that make up a qualified voting majority must be spelled out. In this case the qualified majority is analogous, not identical, to the relevant provisions of EU treaties. A new concept of qualified voting rights is being introduced in Article 7. We must have clarity on this.
I want the issues I have raised to be clarified in the public interest so that we will have the information and be in a position to vote “Yes”. Adequate information on these matters must be provided. People who do not have information tend to vote “No”. If we want people to vote “Yes” we must give them the answers to these questions. The questions can be answered in a reasonable manner but I warn the Government not to try to hedge and hide and avoid providing those answers. If people feel the Government is not fully open with information they may choose to vote “No”.
Notwithstanding the clause in the treaty and the difficulties of the trajectory of our national debt, politically it is better to be part of this arrangement than to be outside it. I call on the Government to provide clarity on these issues during the coming month so that when people come to vote on 31 May they can vote “Yes” on the basis of full information on what they are voting about.
Deputy Joe McHugh: In every political debate there is a temptation to muddy the waters. There will be a danger with regard to the stability treaty to make it into something it is not. While we have conversations about austerity and linking the treaty to household charges, property taxes and water rates we must be genuine and sincere in our approach and inform people of what the treaty is about and not what it is not about.
This is a difficult time for many people and they are having to make stark choices. I know a family who have two children in college and must make the stark choice not to facilitate their third child going to college. These are the very real choices faced by people. They are having to decide whether to tax the car or replace the tyres. That is the grim reality in our economy at present. There is a temptation to muddy the waters by raising issues unconnected with the stability treaty. Similarly, I know a tour operator in Donegal who will bring 10,000 German tourists into County Donegal between now and October of this year. I could argue that the treaty is about encouraging more Germans to come into County Donegal, but it would be disingenuous of me to make that argument. The treaty is not about encouraging tourism. Likewise, it is not about austerity.
The treaty is about balancing budgets and having a safety checking mechanism among the group of 25 out of 27 countries that have signed an intergovernmental agreement . It is about putting in checks and balances to ensure solidarity. It is not just about oversight for our country, which is the argument being made at present. The treaty is about more than oversight for Ireland. It will mean collective oversight to ensure that one country does not drag down the others. That is the first objective of the treaty.
The second objective relates to having access to emergency funding. Like yourself, a Cheann Chomhairle, I am not great at predicting the future. We do not know what is going to happen in two, three, four or five years time. We can only put in checks and balances to prevent certain things happening and to ensure that we have access to a firewall of over €800 billion in the European Stability Mechanism.
There is an important role for civic society. I call on people who are leaders in their own communities at community, business or commercial levels to get involved in this debate. The treaty is a document of only 11 pages. People can inform themselves and will be informed through the Referendum Commission. We need collective leadership from civic society. There is a role for them to play.
As a Donegal man coming from a county that voted “No” to Lisbon twice, I will say Donegal people, like many people who voted “No” in the first Lisbon referendum, felt Europe was getting out of hand and out of control and that there was a vacuum with regard to the democratic deficit. That was the language being used on the doorsteps when I canvassed in both Lisbon treaty campaigns. This treaty will put control mechanisms in place to ensure the EU does not get out of control and that we do not have two leaders, such as Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, as the optics of the European project. The European Union is more than that.  It is about collective ownership and leadership and encouraging and empowering countries such as Ireland to be part of it through our European elected members and through having a more accountable Commission.
Twice in my lifetime, and I am sure more often in your lifetime, a Cheann Chomhairle, the public finances were plundered for electoral gain. The fiscal treaty is a mechanism whereby the political classes will not be in a position to plunder the public purse for electoral gain while consigning people to mass emigration and record levels of unemployment. This happened in the 1980s. When I was leaving college most of my classmates emigrated. Fortunately, many of those people returned in the late 1990s and have families here. Regrettably, their children are now reaping the whirlwind of poor management of the public finances. At the core of the debate on this treaty is the putting in place of structures that will prohibit that kind of plundering of the public purse and of raising levels of public expenditure that are not sustainable on the basis of taxes that are transient by nature.
We recall what happened in the late 1970s, consigning a generation to emigration and high unemployment in the 1980s. Regrettably, we see history repeating itself. The elimination of the boom and bust cycle is the single greatest reason we should endorse the treaty. It is not a case of capitalism versus socialism. If my understanding is correct the treaty is being recommended by all member states of various political hues — socialist, capitalist, left wing, right wing, centre left and centre right — so it is not an ideological issue. Sane finance is never complicated in such a fashion.
I wish to raise an issue of housekeeping with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan. On polling day I do not wish to see polling booths staffed by public servants on secondment from their current employment in receipt of a day’s pay for working as poll clerks and presiding officers. We have 450,000 people unemployed and it is time we made a concerted effort to get them into those positions on polling day.
In responding to the debate I would like the Minister to deal with an issue that is critical to the content of the 11-page treaty, namely, structural deficit. Could he outline what is the acceptable pan-European definition of structural deficit because it varies from state to state? That will be a critical issue in terms of interpretation of the rigour within which we will have to operate. I am satisfied that it is not the straitjacket that the “No” campaign invokes. It is interesting to note that not a single Member from among those advocating a “No” vote is present in the Chamber. One would have thought that they were so committed to the cause that one of them might at least be present to listen to the debate. I am satisfied the treaty is not a straitjacket that would prohibit us from having a stimulus budget, for example, if that were necessary at various times in our economic cycle. Such flexibility is built into the treaty. Equally, it gives us the same say in respect of the budgets of other states who will endorse the treaty in respect of such matters as we will seek for ourselves.
The other issue that is very different about this treaty in comparison with, for example, the Lisbon treaty to which Deputy McHugh referred, is that in the Lisbon treaty we effectively had a veto. When we rejected the Lisbon treaty in the first referendum, it meant that 26 member states across Europe who had endorsed the treaty up to that point could not proceed. However, the reality now is that if 12 member states — all of the other member states will ratify the treaty by parliamentary processes — ratify the treaty, it will come into effect. If we say “No” then we will not be able to hold up the rest of Europe which will move on without us. That will mean we would stand out from the crowd in Europe at a time when the common currency, which is a critical although not exclusive component of the debate, is a crucial issue. That is not the kind of signal we should send as a small, open trading economy that is dependent on exports for our economic recovery. A critical issue to bear in mind is that we do not have a veto.
Deputy Tom Barry: I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate. First, we must keep it simple. The treaty, in effect, is about reality and common sense. It is critical that everyone should sell the treaty by expounding on its virtues. The treaty is about sensible financial governance, removing doubt and putting certainty at the heart of all we do.
I am surprised when I hear so many speakers today advocating a reckless attitude towards business. I have been involved in business for 20 years. It upsets me when I hear people talk about business as if they know what they are talking about when they do not. It is one thing to set up a business but to keep it going is another, especially through these austere times. However, we are doing it. Europe has been good to us in many respects, including giving equal rights on pay to women and on many other issues. However, we seem to forget the good Europe has done for us. The Government was elected to make hard decisions. We must do so because we are in a financial quagmire. At least the ship is on a stable course at the moment.
Each business must fulfil seven criteria. The first is potential. Other criteria include a business plan, reality, future budgeting and stability. When all the criteria are in place there is hope for a business to move forward. No successful business person will vote against the treaty because it is instrumental for the future of their business and for their employees, who form a critical element.
The treaty will safeguard against reckless administrations, which we have seen, and future potential for a recurrence of such a situation. Many previous administrations acted from self-gain or perhaps in some cases through ineptitude. Perhaps they simply wanted to buy votes. I hope the treaty will bring an end to such an approach. There is a requirement to balance our books in the same way as every business. The Government has introduced the Credit Guarantee Bill to provide partial guarantees for credit and the microfinance Bill. We are doing what we can but it is essential that the referendum is passed in order for us to move forward.
Politics is changing. We have people on the left who are reckless. I say that as a business person. I do not like what happened in the context of the household charge. Such people did not recognise democracy and they were intimidating in their attitude towards others. This time around we will be a little harder in our attitude and we will not be bullied or intimidated. It will not be a case of their stamping their view on everyone else for their gain.
Let us make the treaty simple for all those involved in business because it will cost jobs if it does not get passed. Europe and this country are a base for many American companies. A total of 200,000 people are employed directly by them and a further 400,000 are employed upstream and downstream of them. They want to be confident that this country is part of Europe and is moving forward with Europe. A “No” vote would also mean that interest rates would increase. Bond interest rates would increase and that would have a knock-on effect on the cost to business.
The key challenge to small businesses such as mine and to other businesses is access to finance and the cost of it if one can get it. We need growth to emerge from the deficit in terms of day-to-day spending. The treaty will help farming, IT, SMEs and all types of businesses. They will all be affected. The treaty is critical for this country and its people. I challenge anyone who suggests that the treaty will not affect business. It is easy to speak when one does not have to worry about how to pay one’s staff for the following week. It is also easy to criticise the treaty when one does not have to pay all the costs involved in business. This country can become much more competitive, but that is a challenge for another day. Without the treaty being accepted, we will hinder our progress. We will have no safety net and it will cause an impediment with which we do not need to deal.
Deputy Anthony Lawlor: Okay. What struck me when I first looked at the treaty is how short it is. As has been indicated, it is only 11 pages long. The most important thing about it in contrast to previous treaties is that it contains key words that are easy to understand. The clear message I wish to send is that the treaty must be put in a language that is simple and understandable for everyone.
I am a small business man, in reality a sheep farmer. My business has good years and bad years. During the good years I either reinvest some of my profits back into the business or else I put it to one side because I know I will have bad years. During the bad years there are two ways I source finance. I either take it from my savings or, because I have proven to my bank that I am a successful business man, it will give me access to finance. Sometimes I am in control of my situation, such as the quality of the stock I produce, but at other times I am not in control such as in terms of weather and other such variables.
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