Speech at United Left Alliance Public Meeting in Liberty Hall on the Fiscal Stability Treaty

23rd May, 2012

There is saying in my chosen profession. Politics, they say, is show business for ugly people. I will leave you all to make your own mind up on that.

But what can be ugly about politics is the appearance of different sides in an election campaign shouting slogans and sound bites at each other, without listening – leaving the voter lacking in information and still uncertain how to vote.

That is why I am genuinely happy to speak here this evening and thank the organisers for the invitation. In my contribution I want to outline the positive reasons for voting Yes as opposed to the consequences of a No vote.

I also want to emphasise that this is not a vote in isolation. It should also reflect a broader vision of our relationship with Europe. I hope that a persuasive element in someone making their case for a vote is not just their view of the Stability Treaty but also their view of the future of Europe and of our place within it.

I have already mentioned uncertainty; an emotion has been a pervasive and corrosive element in our national psyche for the last 5 years. Uncertainty about whether having a job next year, uncertainty about income levels and uncertainty about whether the euro will survive.

Some of that uncertainty is driven by the nature of our economy. Our economy is deeply interwoven with the world outside our shores.

That has been a conscious choice of continuous Governments since the 1960s. A choice re-affirmed at each election time and in many referenda.

From the publication of the ‘Programme for Economic Expansion’ in 1958, to the foundation of Coras Trachtala Teoranta, to the focus of IDA on attracting Foreign Direct Investment, to joining the European Economic Community in 1973 and then to joining the euro. This has been the golden thread that has linked different governments, a thread continuously endorsed by the Irish people.

This allowed a ‘trade off’. We wanted:

– An ability to compete for global investment and jobs despite our island location.
– Certainty of exchange rate so we could easily sell our goods and services abroad.

In return for this we made two decisions.

– We pooled our national sovereignty with Europe – we let others have a say in the decisions that impact on us.
– We integrated our labour markets and our capital markets with those of the world – we opened ourselves to money, goods and people from outside our borders to allow our money, people and goods cross their borders.

Sean Lemass as Taoiseach argued in 1958 that the task of his generation was to

‘consolidate the economic foundations of our political independence’.

And, ironically and of necessity, this was done through integration.

And the big question is whether this has worked. I would argue strongly that it has. According to the last set of World Bank statistics our gross national income per head placed Ireland at 20th out of 200 states and 11th out of all EU states. In 1950 Irish income was 69% of the European average, nearly 60 years later it was 125% of the same average.

In other words, despite the massive difficulties we face as a people we are doing better than we were and better than we could have done without so much engagement with the outside world.

This provides the historic backdrop as to why I believe that a ‘Yes’ vote is in our national interest.

A Yes vote offers stability and certainty and re-affirms our location as a core member of the Euro. It provides clear questions to the answers of:

Whether Ireland is committed to recovery in our national finances

Whether Ireland can fund it’s public services in the future

Whether Ireland can not only survive in the Euro but prosper in the Euro.

With positive answers to these 3 questions it makes it easier:

To give people confidence to spend their hard earned money

To attract investment into our economy

To attract international deposits into our banking system

A Yes vote will deliver positive answers to the big questions of funding our state and staying within the centre of the eurozone.

These questions are too vital to the destiny of our country to say we might be able to access some unspecified fund or some countries might want to support us. ‘Might’ just is not good enough to questions that big and that important. And ‘Yes’ answers them definitively.

A core cause of our difficulty was that we were happy to accept the benefits of the euro without ever accepting the responsibilities and requirements of membership. As a report by the National Economic and Social Council, one of our think tanks, wrote:

‘that national approaches to fiscal policy, prices, costs and financial regulation were not sufficiently adapted to the disciplines of a single currency’

This Treaty makes these obligations and benefits clear.

If we accept that the euro, that the benefits of a stable exchange rate and that our membership of a trading zone of 500 million neighbours is pivotal to our economy then a Yes vote is essential.

But it makes this membership clear in a world where the nature of economic sovereignty, or our ability to make decisions on our own in relation to budgets and taxes, has changed.

I don’t believe that our sovereignty ended when the Troika arrived. It ended when our banks got too big and they and our country could not borrow. If no one in the world will lend to you then you’re no longer sovereign.

And that’s the reason why the Treaty poses no threat to our sovereignty. Yes – our budgets will be scrutinised more. But if the European Commission was not doing this – then the financial markets would be. And you can negotiate with the Commission but you can’t negotiate with bond markets.

The Treaty offers a better way of gaining back what we have currently lost.

I started on a show biz theme – I will end on one.

A vote must pass the Jerry Maguire test – ‘Show me the Money’.

Of how we will get money to invest into creating jobs when there is any doubt about our ability to fund our country in the future and remain core and certain members of the Eurozone.

Of how, in the event of an emergency, and with no chance of going to the European Union for the funding, of how we will get the money to keep the schools open and hospitals working.

Yes answers these questions. Yes provides certainty and stability.

Does it offer the guarantee of success and the avoidance of hard times.

No – but it does give us the best chance possible.