Friday 13 December 2019

Shane Coleman: UK exit now the elephant in Dail chamber

THERE are days watching the Dail when you want to scream with frustration. Yesterday was one of them. The day before, David Cameron had given his commitment to a referendum on Britain's future in the EU. A national parliament should have focused on the ramifications for the country.

Instead, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and the technical group all blissfully ignored the elephant in the chamber, opting to raise the issue of graduate nurses' pay.

So, given a choice between raising an issue of national importance or backing a small, but well-organised and vested interest, guess which wins? Welcome to politics, Irish-style.

It was probably a no-brainer: there are more votes in nurses' pay than EU issues.

But that shouldn't disguise the fact the Dail is failing in its responsibility to the country. Not for the first time. Not once, in the 10 years leading up to the economic crash did a TD warn about the dangers of double-digit annual increases in spending; about the erosion of the tax base; about the banks' dangerous lending policies.

The ramifications of Cameron's speech should have been the only concern of the Dail. Yet it didn't get a look-in yesterday morning.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that the country sleepwalked into euro membership. In signing up for the euro, we lost our ability to set interest rates. That could have helped in taking the steam out of the property sector.

But the point is not that joining the euro was a mistake. The point is that we must ensure our negligence in not fully debating our future is not repeated.

The front page of this newspaper yesterday morning was one of the few places where the impact on Ireland of a British exit was detailed.

Ireland's efforts to attract investment might be boosted but there are greater downsides for us, from the potential damage to the economy of our major trading partner; the possibility of a devalued sterling and the loss of an ally at the EU table.

It's crucial we start debating and planning for the possibility of a UK exit. Yesterday– with the Dail fiddling while (the Treaty of) Rome burns – doesn't augur well.

Shane Coleman is political editor at Newstalk 106-108FM

Irish Independent

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