It’s now clear – we blew the boom

June 24, 2008 § 1 Comment

From today’s Order of Business:

In order to have any relevance at all, this House needs to debate the ESRI’s recently published quarterly economic commentary. We are talking about the first recession in this country for 25 years. We are not talking about speculation but about a clear forecast of an increase in unemployment and emigration. Two significant aspects of the current situation emerge from the ESRI report. First, the current recession is almost entirely home-grown. That is the factual position as outlined by the authors of the ESRI report. The alibi, explanation or excuse that is sometimes given in this House – that it concerns external, overseas factors – is not true. Therefore we must leave that aside because it has been proven to be incorrect.

We are talking about factual material which we need to understand before we can have the debate. The factual material, which is not speculative, points without question to the reality that this is a home-grown recession caused by developments over which this country, and the Government in particular, have substantial power to change. Members on the Government side may not like it but we need to face the facts first and then have the debate.

Second, the ESRI report’s commentary makes demonstrably clear that we blew the boom.

We had an opportunity to do otherwise. We had years of self-satisfied, smug commentary from the Government, including the then Taoiseach, about cranes in the sky, saying that everything was going to be great. We missed the opportunity, however. I want a debate on this report.

We blew it in this sense that we passed up the opportunity we had in this country to set down the basis for dealing with a downturn when it came. We did not do that. We simply decided not to do it. We did not fix the roof of the house when the weather was good and now we must face the bad times. Clearly we need an opportunity to debate it in this House.

If I can reflect back on what is sometimes regarded as the Taoiseach’s Angola moment when he was upset about having to deal with the Department of Health and Children, it would appear now that the Minister for Finance, Deputy Brian Lenihan, is having an Angola moment about having to deal with the challenges in the Department of Finance. They need to get together quite lively to put together a clear proposal on how we will proceed in the matter. They first need to face up to the fact that it would be unthinkable for them to go ahead and take pay increases in the face of a situation where they demand that people face pay cuts. Clearly, we need a debate on the matter.

More :: ESRI warns of recession, job losses and renewed emigration (Irish Times)

Alex on The Sunday Supplement

June 24, 2008 § Leave a comment

I joined Sam Smyth on Today FM’s Sunday Supplement last Sunday where we talked about the latest opinion poll results, the economy and the aftermath of the Lisbon Treaty result among other things. The other guests on the show were Prime Time journalist Katie Hannon and Irish Times Economics Editor Paul Tansey.

To listen to the show, click here.

Imperative that will of Irish people is accepted

June 18, 2008 § Leave a comment

From this morning’s Order of Business in the Seanad:

It is not a matter of discretion or opinion as to whether the view of the Irish people should be respected or accepted, it is a constitutional imperative that it be so. I regard it as almost something that goes without saying, but I will say it just in case there is any doubt. Of course, one must respect and accept the result of the referendum last week. If it requires to be said, I am happy to do so. It does not end there because there is no question that the Lisbon treaty is finished and is dead in the eyes of the Irish people. The treaty that was put to them last week is dead, but by voting as we did we have not necessarily rendered it dead in the eyes of our European partners.

While we cannot ratify it that does not mean that our decision does not have implications and consequences throughout Europe and with our partners in Europe. We can feel good about the fact that the treaty is finished and is dead in our eyes but we cannot make it finished and dead in the eyes of others. These are the consequences we and the Government, in particular, have to face. I do not underestimate the task and the seriousness and the depth of the challenge that faces the Government in the context of the economic challenges to which Senators Fitzgerald and O’Toole have referred.

I am glad we have ordered an initial debate this afternoon on this issue. I support that call. Sometimes eyes glaze over when this point is made but it is important to make it at this juncture. What is the nature of the debate we need to have? It cannot be just a squabble over who did what when, where there were posters and where there were none, who was out on the street and who was not. By all means, let us have that debate if people feel it is necessary but a much more fundamental debate is needed which has to do with the question of trust in democratic institutions and trust in the very practice of politics in this country. By that I do not mean I am frustrated that the people would not do what the politicians suggested they do.

Senator de Búrca made the point in the newspapers at some stage during the campaign that it must be asked why, in such serious issues, we should expect people to handle a complex issue presented to them for decision four weeks before a referendum, in circumstances where we do not have a real continuing debate about these issues. We have such debates here but we do not have them in the community. That is the level at which the debate has to be had. The question of trust and the question of democratic institutions are all bound up in the result last week. Some of the innovations contained in the Broadcasting Bill might assist in that regard.

There should be a public forum on television and in the media where people can have an opportunity to tease out these issues in great detail rather than simply presenting them with a complex document a few weeks before the referendum. As Senator Fitzgerald and others have said it will be difficult, although necessary, to analyse the reasons people voted “No”. In many cases they are directly contradictory. There are people who thought the charter of fundamental rights did not go far enough and there are those who thought we should not have it. There are directly conflicting views.

It is all very well for people to come forward with a wish list, whether it is Sinn Féin, Libertas or anybody else. I have a wish list. We can all have one. The question is whether we can deliver it. By all means, let us have a debate about the aftermath but let us have a more fundamental debate about what it means and how we can improve the quality of our public discourse on issues such as this.

The Seanad will discuss the outcome of the Lisbon Treaty referendum this afternoon.

No gets you….?

June 11, 2008 § Leave a comment


It’s the final day of canvassing on my part in Dublin South. Over the past number of nights my team and I have been knocking on doors in Rathfarnham, Knocklyon and Ballyboden and I have to say that generally we have had a very positive response.

Tomorrow we go to the polls, and I sincerely hope that there will be a high turnout – and that is something that both the Yes and No side agree on. I urge anyone who has the opportunity to vote.

Polling stations will be open from 7am tomorrow morning and will stay open until 10pm that evening. Remember to bring your voting card and some sort of identification. I have had some concerned residents say that they had not received their polling card at the beginning of this week. If this is still the case, check you are on the register by clicking here and if you are then bring identification (driving licence, passport, etc.) to your local polling station.

I sincerely hope that people will fully consider what is at stake in this referendum, and I believe that the above advertisement (carried in some national newspapers this morning) should drive home the reasons to vote Yes tomorrow. Those campaigning for a No vote have said that this Treaty can be easily sent back to be renegotiated.

This is a totally naive position.

This Treaty which we vote on tomorrow is the culmination of hours, months, years of hard work by all 27 states in the EU, at some stages chaired by Ireland. If we were to ‘send it back’ there is no guarantee that we will get a better deal. In fact, we may become worse off. A Yes vote will mean that Ireland will continue to be an equal in the democratic process of the European Union. It will increase the say of the Oireachtas. It will enshrine workers rights. It will help protect trafficked women and children. It will promote public services. It will make the EU work more efficiently.

A vote No is a vote for the unknown.

Right now, for Ireland and for Europe, in this current economic climate, it is not a time for a step into the unknown, and as party leader Eamon Gilmore said, not the time to ‘throw a wobbly’.

Vote Yes.


How Lisbon affects democracy

June 10, 2008 § Leave a comment

During canvassing for a Yes vote in Dublin South, I have heard some people say that they are considering voting no in Thursday’s referendum because they do not wish to see the powers of the Oireachtas ‘handed over to Brussels’. As a senator, I must respectfully disagree with this claim.

Of the 60 Senators, I know of only four who are advocating a No vote, and in the Dáil, all the major political parties bar one are in favour of the Lisbon Treaty. The reasons for this outlook are simple.

While there are many reasons to vote Yes on Thursday, as a legislator, I must put forward two reasons on why the Treaty will actually provide more power to the Oireachtas, contrary to what many on the No side believe.

Increasing the role of National Parliaments
For the first time, the Oireachtas will have the powers to examine proposed legislation coming from the EU. If TDs and Senators have objections to that legislation, they can raise their concerns and have the legislation re-examined.

Yet, if Ireland still feels that proposed legislation is contrary to our interests, it can be struck down with the support of a majority of our EU colleagues. As I pointed out yesterday, the majority of what comes from the EU is technical and more important issues such as justice and home affairs are not dealt with in this way.

This is the first time that national parliaments have the opportunity to fully examine the legislation produced by the EU. It is something the Labour party have sought for some time and it can only lead to an enhancement of democracy in the European Union.

Citizens Initiative
Furthermore, the Treaty for the first time allows citizens to get involved in the inner workings of the Union. Where one million European citizens petition the European Parliament regarding a particular subject, it is the duty of the EU to respond.

This is a significant step forward towards opening the European Union up to citizens. I have no doubt that this ‘Citizens Initiative’ will lead to further initiatives in the policy-making process.

While these are just two reasons to vote Yes on Thursday, any suggestion that the Lisbon Treaty will erode Irish democracy should be rejected. If the Treaty is passed, the EU will be more accountable to the Oireachtas and to the citizens of Europe. That can only be a good thing. Vote Yes on Thursday.

Time for a reality check

June 9, 2008 § 6 Comments

I am continuing on the canvass trail as Labour seeks a Yes vote in Thursday’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. While many people I am meeting have views contrary to my own and my party’s, I’ve still found a majority that are in favour of the Treaty and look forward to a positive result.

However, I have still found that some of the fears peddled by the No campaigners have many ordinary voters confused about what is and is not in the Treaty. In order to make an informed decision, I feel it necessary to clear up what exactly are the facts.

The Treaty will lead to a Superstate
The opposite is the case. The Treaty explicitly states that the EU is given its power by the member states, and it can only operate in traditional areas (such as defence) by unanimity.

EU Law will be superior to Irish Law
This has actually been the case since we joined the EEC – but only with regard to matters upon which we have agreed to pool our sovereignty. The EU could not operate if this were not the case.

It will lead to privatisation of Health and Education
Nowhere in the Treaty is privatisation mentioned. In fact, the EU has no position on privatisation. Nothing changes with the Lisbon Treaty.

It will lead to taxes from Brussels
There is no change in Ireland’s taxation laws and any changes at EU level will require unanimity. The EU may try to negotiate a consolidated tax base but Ireland can have the option to opt out.

We will lose a Commissioner
We will lose a Commissioner for five out of every 15 years and this applies to all 27 countries equally. There are simply not enough positions to warrant 27 Commissioners and each commissioner is bound to represent the EU, rahter than their home State.

Our neutrality will be gone
There is no change in this aspect. Ireland has a triple lock in respect of getting involved militarily – it must be agreed by the government, by the Oireachtas, and must also have a UN mandate. The lack of a UN mandate meant that Ireland did not get involved in peacekeeping in FYR Macedonia. The UN supports our mission in Chad, which is specifically to protect refugees.

It’s too complex
There is no doubt that the Treaty is complex. But it needs to be in order to protect it from constant legal challenges. It is similar to complex legal documents, banking documents and everyday bills in the Oireachtas. We must rely on the summaries we are offered. The consolidated version of the Treaties by the IIEA is a relatively easy way of reading the Treaty, and failing this the Referendum Commission is an impartial organisation that seeks to inform.

The Treaty can be renegotiated
The negotiations around the Lisbon Treaty have been ongoing for eight years. There is no doubt that if we vote against the Treaty, Ireland will not get a better deal and our hand will be dealt a severe blow.

The Treaty will bring in abortion
Not true. Our abortion laws remain unchanged under Lisbon.

This is the same as the Constitution
Much of the Treaty is the same as the EU Constitution, but with some contentious aspects removed such as a common flag, common anthem, etc. Although the Constitution was voted down in France and the Netherlands, many seem to forget that it was favoured by the people of Spain and Luxembourg.

I hope this clears up a lot of the fears that have been raised by the No campaigners. For more on this, the Labour Party have a ‘Reality Check’ section of their website. It is extremely important that everyone knows exactly what is in this Treaty, and what the facts are.

More :: Visit Reality Check on the Labour Website

Treaty Yes vote can only be positive for citizens

June 6, 2008 § Leave a comment

With only days to go until the Lisbon Treaty Referendum, the Seanad had a timely debate on how the Treaty would effect national parliaments yesterday. In the course of this campaign, we have heard numerous accusations that passing the Treaty would be taking away our sovereignty and result in the virtual redundancy of the Oireachtas. This is simply untrue. Below, you will find my own contribution to the debate.

It is important that we have a debate and hear all voices and points of view on this vital proposal before the Irish people on 12 June. It is easy to assert that one respects other points of view but I do so sincerely. We must respect the viewpoints of those who urge the Irish people to vote “No”. Senator Norris complained, perhaps with justification, about name calling and people being blackguarded. I am not looking for a paper medal but I have not engaged in any of that. I am not aware of Members engaging in abuse or comments about people who take a different view – certainly not in this House.

We have debated the treaty on a number of occasions and are now debating the report of the joint committee and the enhancement of the role of parliaments across the EU arising from the reform treaty. The democratic deficit is a serious issue for the EU. We refer to a democratic deficit in our domestic political situation, an argument that can be made, but there is a major problem at the heart of the European project. It may be one that, because of the sheer scale of it, is impossible ultimately to redress. If there is a way of doing it, the drafters of the Lisbon treaty have attacked this problem. There are serious and substantive changes to the way the EU does its business. This will have a positive effect on citizen participation, citizen information and the citizen’s stake in the EU through the national parliaments. There is no doubt the treaty does that. It cannot be gainsaid by anyone that this is not one of the things the treaty does in terms of consultation with parliaments on policy matters, allowing them a real role in upholding the principle of subsidiarity and placing the parliaments in the position of watchdogs on behalf of the people they represent.

I have never claimed that the treaty is a manifesto for workers’ rights or that it achieves all that those of us on the left wish to achieve for workers’ rights, equality and social justice. I say this to all my colleagues but particularly Sinn Féin, a party that has demonstrated a commitment to the principles of equality and social justice. I believe it is the case but also that Sinn Féin is seriously mistaken in the view it takes on the Lisbon treaty as a possible means to advance those principles in Europe. In a recent article, Mr. Fintan O’Toole made the interesting point that this is about having a playing pitch on which we can advance these goals. Politics, struggles and battles are what we must engage in now. I hope Sinn Féin will be part of this in Europe to advance and uphold workers’ rights. That is where Sinn Féin should be instead of seeking to have this treaty rejected, which would have a negative impact on those we represent.

More :: Read the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Scrutiny regarding the Role for National Parliaments in the Lisbon Treaty
More :: Read the piece by Fintan O’Toole which I mentioned in my speech (*registration required)
More :: For more information on the Treaty, please visit Labour’s Treaty Website or the Referendum Commission

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