It is time for people to get involved in debate on growth rather than turning their backs on it

Following the Yes vote in last week’s Fiscal Stability Treaty referendum, the Dáil debated the European Communities (Amendment) Bill 2012.  You can read the Tánaiste’s speech by clicking here.  Below is my own speech. 

We are debating this legislation in the aftermath of the referendum on the fiscal treaty last week, the outcome of which I welcome. As some of my colleagues have referred parochially to their constituencies, can I have the indulgence of a few seconds to say how pleased I am that my constituency of Dublin South returned the highest “Yes” vote in the country at 76%, notwithstanding the rather late intervention of an independent Deputy in the constituency, whose intervention in the last few days of the campaign was described in some quarters of the press as constituting a game changer. Perhaps it did change the game, but not in the direction intended by the Deputy.

This debate is on a relatively net issue dealt with in the Bill, although the Government is also taking the opportunity to include another couple of important matters. Principally we are debating the amendment to article 136 of the Treaty. I would have a lot more sympathy for colleagues who were complaining earlier about the guillotine in this debate if there were arguments of substance being put forward as to why we should not support this Bill, and not agree to what is being proposed. Having listened reasonably carefully this afternoon, I cannot identify any argument of
substance other than the general argument to the effect that we do not want anything to do with “all that”, and that we know we are against it before we even read it. That is what these arguments amount to.

I take a slightly different view from some of my Government colleagues on the “Yes” side. While I agree there were strong reasons inherent in the referendum proposal which justified a “Yes” vote, it still constituted a relatively modest proposal to the people. This is because many of the measures which the change in the Constitution will allow the Government to endorse are already in place. Amidst all of the noise of the past three or four weeks, that point was missed. Those on the “No” side now have a difficulty facing up to the consequences of the arguments they made at the time, and this was evident earlier in Deputy Daly’s speech. The Deputy pressed the Tánaiste on what the Government would now do, given that the people had agreed to amend the Constitution. She correctly pointed out that the amendment to the Constitution is a permissive, enabling amendment that will allow the State to ratify the treaty. It was claimed that many rules would be put into the Constitution if the referendum were passed, but of course none of those rules was put into the Constitution. Do those on the “No” side still hold to the view that what the people did last week was to enshrine austerity permanently in our Constitution? Are they seriously saying the Irish people gave a mandate for permanent austerity last week? If that is what they think happened last week, they will have problems with their politics in future, but of course that is not what happened, and that was not what the people were asked to do, in spite of the claims on some of the “No” posters. The people agreed to permit the State to ratify this Treaty.

Deputy Daly stated today that it was pointless setting up a fund like this because if Spain goes down, it will use up all of it, or at least the lion’s share of it. Even if she is right – I do not think she is – how is that an argument for not having a fund? She stated that Ireland would have to contribute to it. The countries have to contribute to the fund because they are setting it up. We cannot conjure money out of the air, although perhaps Deputy Daly and her colleagues think we can. The most extraordinary argument of all was Deputy Daly’s point that the setting up of the fund would itself push us towards a second bailout. From where do these people get these arguments? Surely they must be embarrassed when making such points.

Deputy Daly’s comments were reflective of the nature, tone and content of the arguments made in the past four weeks. I said the proposal put to the Irish people was modest, but the decisive reason for the victory of the “Yes” side was what the “No” side were saying. Perhaps I am alone in thinking that, but I believe the “No” side won it for the “Yes” side. When people read the proposal initially they probably thought it was modest and not much about which to be enthusiastic. However, they had to listen to arguments from the “No” side, with all the untruths and the misrepresentations in the teeth of what the treaty said. For example, the argument was made that there would be no conditionality on funding in the future. We were urged by Deputy Boyd Barrett and others to forget that part of it. Reference was made to selective quotations on the Treaty. People are not stupid. They were able to see they were being told “porkies” by the “No” side. The truth was being misrepresented to them by many on that side.

Sinn Féin has come around to supporting the Bill, which is to be welcomed. There would be no logic to its position if it were not to do so. However, some colleagues remain here who think we ought not go ahead with this proposal, but have offered few arguments to support that position. Deputy Daly complained that people are always asking where will the money come from. She does not want that question to be asked. It is a hard question for her and for her colleagues, but it is useless saying that people are asking the wrong question. Deputy Daly and her colleagues have not answered the question because they cannot answer it.

Deputy Finian McGrath made the point earlier that there is a certain amount of sleep walking going on across Europe on where the Union and the eurozone are headed. He is right on that. There has been a lamentable incrementalist approach to change in recent months. There has been a paralysis of decision making, which is regrettable. It may now mean that change will have to happen very quickly. People have said we are at a fork in the road and that the European project, and certainly the eurozone, will go one way or the other – either towards closer integration or towards break up. We have managed to arrive at this binary dilemma and it is one way or the other. If I am right that it is a choice between one route or the other, those who advocate that we should not take the more integrationist approach have also got a responsibility to propose to the Irish people what they think ought to happen to our country in the future. They cannot keep saying this is the wrong question. Deputy Daly talks about the Government being naïve, but the perspective she has been advocating in this House is devoid of credibility as an alternative analysis for the Irish people.

Let us join in the politics of what needs to happen. I am pleased Francois Hollande was elected in France. I do not agree with some of my colleagues who say it does not change very much and that growth was already on the agenda. I know growth was already on the agenda, but the Sarkozy-Merkel political approach to what constitutes growth has been ruptured by that election, and that is a good thing. It changes the conversation about what needs to be done for growth, and I wish colleagues would get involved in that debate rather than turning their backs on it.