‘The treaty is about more than stability. It is also about solidarity and trust between the peoples and governments of Europe.’

April 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Last week, the Dail debated the Fiscal Stability Treaty and I told the House that solidarity is the key to recovery.  Below is a transcript of my speech.  The website for the Stability Treaty is now live and available on www.stabilitytreaty.ie

I have found colleagues’ contributions to the debate this evening both interesting and informative. I was not aware, for example, that it was the view of Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan that we should leave the euro.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: I have expressed that view on previous occasions in the House.

Deputy Alex White: I respect his view although I disagree with it. I would be interested to hear Deputies Flanagan and Joan Collins say whether they would consider us to have a better chance of running our own affairs if the treaty is accepted or if it is rejected. Does Deputy Collins believe we will have more or less austerity if it is defeated? Many articles have been quoted from colleagues on that side of the House to support their case. Mr. Krugman’s ears must be very red. In an article of his on 11 March to which rather less reference was made, Mr. Krugman said: “You may ask what alternatives countries like Greece and Ireland had, and the answer is that they had and have no good alternatives”. In other words, while he has offered a major critique of the strategy in the eurozone, he has formed the view that Ireland, among others, has little choice in regard to where it finds itself. I do not accept that we are without choices, but I am strongly of the view that if this referendum is defeated, we will have more austerity, not less. We have a deficit of €15 billion and nobody willing to lend to us. Were we to decide, as Deputy Flanagan advocates, to just leave the currency, we would simply isolate ourselves from any prospect of recovery.

I acknowledge that the treaty is not perfect. In fact, I do not accept it is the solution to the problems in the eurozone. Moreover, I very much agree with some of the points made by Deputy Mick Wallace and others in regard to the huge economic imbalances that exist across the eurozone countries. That is a major issue that must be addressed. It may even be more at the heart of the collapse in Ireland than fiscal indiscipline ever was. I agree with Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn that if the rules set out in the stability treaty had been observed for the past ten years they would not, on their own, have addressed or solved the problems that have arisen. They would not have tracked the bubble which was, in fact, an indirect or perhaps even a direct result of the imbalances to which I referred. The explosion of credit that emerged in the core of Europe after 2000 and the introduction of the euro was bound to have a differential impact on different countries given their varying economic circumstances. Our economy simply was not in a position to withstand and should never have been exposed to that type of influx of credit in the uncontrolled manner in which it occurred. I absolutely agree that fiscal rules alone would not have prevented the crisis. However, that is not an argument against fiscal rules. Rather, it is an argument that fiscal rules are not enough, that the fiscal discipline that is advocated is necessary but not sufficient. It is certainly not a case for throwing out the rules as if they were not required at all.

It is not difficult to ascertain the impetus behind this treaty. The design of the euro currency in the early part of the last decade was incomplete and arguably flawed. Member states thought they could have monetary union without any type of fiscal co-ordination, but there is no currency in history that ever could survive in those types of circumstances. Rules were set out in the Stability and Growth Pact, but they were ignored by many countries, not so much those on the so-called periphery but by France and Germany, among others. What is now being proposed is, first, to take the rules from the shelf, dust them down and strengthen them, which is what was done last year. The provisions contained in the treaty are the strengthened rules that were reintroduced last year. Indeed, they are largely the same rules that have been in place since 1997, which have merely been dusted off and strengthened. In addition, a decision was made to introduce corrective mechanisms where the rules are not applied.

This is the main response the European Union has had to the crisis in the eurozone. To reiterate, while I am of the view that it is necessary, it is not sufficient because we have not yet addressed the macroeconomic imbalances that continue to exist. Europe made a start on addressing those imbalances in the six-pack last year and made additional progress in this new two-pack set of regulations, but it has not done enough to address the risk that the same type of explosion of asset price bubbles could recur in periphery countries. It is moving in the direction of addressing the issue, but it should be given just as much attention as is being given to fiscal discipline. Unfortunately, that is not being done. Nor is sufficient attention being given to the necessity for a growth strategy in Europe. It will probably never be possible, despite what colleagues have argued, for a Keynesian, stimulus-type approach to be taken in isolation in one country within the eurozone. It will however be possible for it to be done in the eurozone as a whole, and I support that, but given the configuration of a system where there is monetary union and fiscal co-ordination, no single country will be in a position to stimulate its own economy without the co-ordination and co-operation of other member states.

That is not to say that Keynes is dead, as some have claimed. Nor does it necessarily mean that neoliberalism has finally triumphed, as Deputy Clare Daly claimed, or that there is no room for any other politics. I strongly disagree with her on that. However, when we have 22 or 23 essentially right-wing or centre-right Governments out of 27 in the European Union, there is a large political job to do. One will not do that political job by cutting oneself loose from the currency or choosing not to engage in politics in Europe. One will not succeed by abandoning any interest in whether the elections in France at the weekend, for example, will change the Government in that country. We will not achieve our objectives by deciding not to make common cause with other Governments, whether on the left or centre-left, in other member states. Instead we should be in Europe arguing with people, co-operating with people and making common cause with people.

There are many people elsewhere in Europe who are interested in hearing the type of debate that is taking place in this Chamber. However, Deputy Flanagan and others are arguing that we should just look after ourselves. He claims that is not a nationalistic position to adopt but I would contend, with respect, that he is being the very essence of a little Irelander.

There is no future for this country on its own. I have made the point to Sinn Féin Deputies in the past that sinn féin as a concept – ourselves alone – is ludicrous in the modern world. We cannot solve all the major problems in the world, economic, financial and environmental, ourselves alone. Deputy Flanagan might believe it can be done but that does not make it so. What we must do is, for example, mutualise debt and deal with the necessity for restructuring it where countries have an overhang of debt. I am strongly of the view that the debt must be restructured in some considerable respect. That is a political fight in Europe. It is a political fight with countries and institutions that do not want to see it happen. If one believes in eurobonds and the mutualising of debt, let us go and argue for them. Let us go and fight for them, talk to other people who might agree with us and talk to other countries in similar positions. However, my colleagues across the House do not want that. Instead they say we should just forget about it all on the basis that it is neoliberalism, and that we should turn our backs and paddle our own canoe. That will not work. Let us be serious politicians, as I am sure my colleagues on that side of the House are. As I said, I accept that fiscal discipline is necessary but I do not agree it is sufficient. We must employ other economic instruments that promote growth. The European Union has not, despite some welcome initiatives recently, been anything like as forthcoming or robust on the growth side as it has been on the fiscal discipline side. Therefore, it is a considerable challenge to build a new strategy in Europe in that regard. « Read the rest of this entry »

Can we trust the government anymore?

November 17, 2010 § Leave a comment

From today’s Order of Business…

I respectfully disagree with the suggestion that criticism of what the Government has done in the past is an entirely separate matter from what we have to deal with now. The two are intimately bound up for two reasons. First, the Minister for Finance and others on the Government side have spent a number of weeks trying to persuade us that the budgetary crisis and the banking crisis are entirely separate. This effort has been made repeatedly in this debate in the past two to three weeks. We have been asked to stop talking about the banks and just talk about the budget when we know that the banking crisis and the central policy failures in regard to banking, and at the top of which failures I would put the blanket guarantee given more than two years ago, are inextricably and intimately bound up with where we are at the moment in regard to the crisis the country is in. We cannot see our way to analysing and debating this issue in any kind of credible way without having regard to these central policy failures, the legacy of which we are facing day in, day out.

The second reason we cannot separate the two things is the issue of trust. Can we trust the Government? We can disagree with those in government and that is fine. We all know that we disagree with them but can we trust them or believe what they say? The problem is that trust and legitimacy immediately flow out of any government, leaving aside whether one agrees or disagrees with those in government, if one cannot believe what that government says. One cannot possibly have any trust in that government. The people cannot have trust in a government, some of whose members at the weekend described as fiction that there were ongoing discussions on bailouts or related matters.

Another Minister, Deputy Dempsey, who was standing beside the Minister in question shook his head and indicated he did not know anything. Either the Ministers knew what the position was and misrepresented it or they did not know what it was, in which case what are they doing in the Government? What is going on in the Government in relation to policy?

My brothers who live in the United States are as well informed about what appears to be taking place as are the people here who are being informed by the Government. This morning’s interview by the Minister for Finance hit rock bottom in that respect. There is no frankness or honesty, without which one cannot have trust and-or legitimacy.

Greek crisis shows need to reform elements of EU mechanisms

May 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Some two weeks ago when the Euro loan facility was first introduced, it was suggested it was a godsend that the Government could lend to Greece at a higher rate than the rate it would have to borrow the money. I was glad this argument did not feature in the Dáil. I was beginning to wonder if that were the case, why were we not borrowing money from the international markets to lend to countries in difficulty all the time and, accordingly, solving many of our own problems. I am glad this argument was abandoned, as no one in his or her right mind would argue this is some process in which we want to be involved.

This loan facility is about showing solidarity among members of the eurozone. It is not the solidarity we had in mind when we joined the euro or the European Union. None of us expected solidarity would require us to dig deep in our own pockets for others. However, that is what has occurred. This solidarity is predicated mainly on a sense of “There but for the grace of God go we”. There is a certain vested interest in this solidarity, as we might face the same fate as the Greeks in the future.

This so-called bailout for Greece could be transformative for the entire eurozone. However, we should rise above that particular level of discussion and argument, true and all as it may be, and start to contemplate and consider the real transformation this will likely bring, ultimately, to the whole nature of the European project, to the eurozone and to the mechanisms that have been deployed to date through the Stability and Growth Pact and elsewhere. It appears as if the Stability and Growth Pact is finished as a real mechanism or as a mechanism with credibility in any sense or one which can be restored to any level of credibility. A more complex set of measures must be agreed and imposed throughout the eurozone to achieve the type of convergence and economic co-operation or cohabitation among different economies within what is, essentially, a single currency, but also a unified economic system. There is no doubt that the mechanisms put in place at the beginning have been found wanting and that they appear to have collapsed. A meeting tomorrow of the ECOFIN Ministers takes place today to examine the implications for the future of what has occurred and to begin to ask questions about what new mechanisms should be put in place. This must be considered. It should lead to a broader political debate in this country as well regarding what we can expect in future.

Last week, there was a skirmish about sovereignty. People got very excited on the Government side at the point made by the leader of the Fine Gael Party to the effect that there was a threat to Irish sovereignty in respect of several instruments such as corporation tax. We must see beyond a reactive debate when someone makes such a remark. We must all understand there is no question but that the character of the relationship between an individual country and the eurozone will change and there will be a great political battle about this in the coming years. « Read the rest of this entry »

Genuine accommodation of obvious concerns needed before ‘Lisbon 2’

December 16, 2008 § Leave a comment

 The Report of the Sub-Committee on Ireland’s Future in European Union provides and interesting and timely opportunity for us to revisit the issues we have previously discussed in the House. Like others, I do not want to repeat all the arguments in which we have engaged on the various occasions we have discussed the Lisbon treaty.

I welcome the report and congratulate Senator Pascal Donohoe on this extremely detailed and readable document. It begins by placing this debate and the moment we are at in true terms. We cannot shirk from those terms, as they point to a choice that must be made by the Irish that is of enormous importance. It cannot be shirked by people on either side of the argument. Those of us who supported the “Yes” vote did not do so on the basis that we would not have liked to change some elements of the treaty. Anybody engaged in a political activity knows that an international treaty involving 27 governments will require compromise and elements that are not liked.

Those of us who argued for a “Yes” vote now have a choice as to how and in what circumstances we might revisit the question. It is a difficult choice because we know and respect the decision of the Irish people, which is the right action. Is it being suggested that we let the issue go? Those on the “No” side also have a choice to make, as I have repeatedly heard people almost pleading that they are as European as the next person. They believe in a strong Europe with Ireland at its heart but they do not like the treaty.

It is incumbent on all of us, including those who argued and voted against the treaty, to come forward not just with repetition and a rehashing of those aspects of the treaty they do not like but to help us point the way. The people should advocate how we can ensure that we are at the heart of Europe in future, particularly through a method other than what I term ‘Lisbon Plus’. There should be some genuine accommodation of the obvious concerns that many Irish people have and had with the Lisbon treaty.

There are 26 other countries that propose to proceed on the substantial basis of what is in the Lisbon treaty. When this point was made before the referendum, it was referred to practically all the time as bullying. It is now a simple fact. There is a choice to be made. If the other 26 countries take the view that they are not prepared to slow progress to the pace Ireland might advocate following our decision in June, what can we say? We should be absolutely blunt. This is a choice between some form of real accommodation post-Lisbon treaty or, at a minimum, a semi-detached status for Ireland in the European Union. If I am wrong and there is a third realistic option, I would like to hear what it is. I do not just mean a theoretical option that someone might advocate. The debate has been put in true terms by the sub-committee. It is no exaggeration for it to say, as it does in its report in paragraph 4 on page 3:

Ireland’s standing and influence in the European Union have diminished following the people’s decision not to ratify the Lisbon Treaty. In immediate terms, this inhibits Ireland’s ability to promote and defend its national interests at a European level. This is likely to affect Ireland’s ability to influence key upcoming policy discussions within the Union. These include, but are not limited to, the development of the EU’s climate change package [by which we mean the future of the planet and our ability to influence it through being involved in discussions]; the negotiations on the future shape of the EU budget beyond 2013 including provision of adequate resources for the Common Agricultural Policy; and responses to the global financial crisis.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Strong arguments should counter Czech President’s views

November 12, 2008 § Leave a comment

I disagree profoundly with the position of the President of the Czech Republic in relation to the European Union but an issue arises in respect of the maturity of the debate we have.

If the President of the Czech Republic states his position in Ireland, surely the way to counter that is through the strength of the arguments against what he is saying rather than suggesting he does not have the right to speak. It has been suggested that it is outrageous that a foreign leader should come to Ireland and make such points. It is not deemed outrageous, however, if foreign leaders who hold the opposite view come here and make their case.

I disagree with the position taken by the President but we have more strength in us to deal with these arguments than to simply suggest that every time somebody such as Mr. Klaus opens his mouth, it constitutes interference in our process. The lesson of the Lisbon treaty debate, be it in the media or the political fora, is that those in favour of the treaty missed the opportunity to demonstrate a much more robust and self-confident approach and instead often seemed to want to exclude views with which they disagreed.

More :: Martin says Klaus comments on Lisbon ‘inappropriate’ (Irish Times)

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.


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