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Without doubt, we need a referendum on bank bailout

William Butler Yeats was right: the best do lack all conviction. And the worst really are full of passionate intensity.

The week just gone is a good example. After last year denouncing Brussels' attempts to control our budgetary process, Enda Kenny was in Brussels last week discussing how to do just that.

His motive was a good one: to soften the bailout. But instead of paying homage by going to Brussels, he should have stayed in Dublin and promised that if Fine Gael is elected, the Irish people will have their say on the bailout in a referendum. But, as with the Croke Park deal, FG always starts from a position of weakness. And, like Fianna Fail before it, FG seems ready to discuss our future with anyone -- Manuel Barroso, the IMF, David Begg -- anyone but us.

No wonder so many are driven to the other extreme of passionate intensity. The pent-up rage of decades of being ignored by mainstream parties is now driving more and more people to extremes.

In a speech to the National Forum on Thursday, Pat Cox warned of what he described as "Hezbollah suicide bombers". Now politicians -- especially those perceived as establishment politicians -- need to be very careful of how they describe those they disagree with.

Joan Burton's attempted put-down of Joe Higgins on Monday and Roisin Shortall's rejection of Independents as "rag bag" tell us more about how out of touch they are than the people they try to insult.

On the Croke Park deal, the Finance Bill, the Civil Partnership Bill, the bailout, and too many other issues, our main political parties have betrayed democracy by ignoring our views. If they now start insulting our views as well, they may find themselves on the receiving end of the same kind of hatred meted out to bankers and to FF.

They should also listen carefully to voices from

'Thanks to the utter lack of conviction in the centre and right of Irish politics, the extremists are gaining ground'

outside Ireland. Voices that are telling us that the bailout is unfair and unworkable. Even in Davos, that establishment of all establishments, the EU/IMF bailout they designed was slammed by the some of the worlds most respected economists, Nouriel Roubini and Ken Rogoff to mention a few.

Having said this, Pat Cox was right to say that the solutions of Euro sceptics are akin to strapping explosives to our waist and lighting a match.

Instead of settling us back at 2005 levels, to leave the euro and default on our debt would hurl us back to the mid-Nineties.

And, if John Bruton was right to remind Brussels of its part in our mess, we also have to burst the delusional views of those who misdirect their anger at the bailout towards the ECB. It was the Irish Government, not the ECB, that rushed through the guarantee scheme in September 2008.

And, were it not for the ECB pumping €130bn of liquidity into our banks, your next trip to the ATM would be an extremely unpleasant experience.

Blaming it for our crisis isn't just stupid. It is insane. And the ECB did everything it could to warn Ireland about what was coming down the tracks. In an interview with me as early as November 2005 -- three years before the crisis broke -- Jean Claude Trichet warned our Regulator to put a brake on bank lending.

This, by the way, gives the lie to Patrick Neary's pathetic claim on the Marian Finucane show a fortnight ago that "no- one warned him" of the banking crisis.

Marian's failure to confront him aggressively on this was also pathetic. Like her salary and his golden handshake -- both of which we pay for -- Neary's attempt to justify his failure (which we have also paid for) is a disgraceful insult to the Irish people. The best he can do now is to shut up.

Having said that, the interest rate on bailout loans is too high. But the suicide bomber tendency have the wrong way of tackling this issue.

Unfortunately, thanks to the utter lack of conviction in the centre and right of Irish politics, extremists are gaining ground -- and if they get power, the insane economic policies of the last decade could start to look good.

Which is why we need a referendum on the bank bailout. Actually, referenda generally are something we need more of in this country given that (as shown with the Croke Park deal) political parties no longer represent us.

We also need an intelligent debate on our economic situation. The General Election should provide this. But with FF, FG, Labour and the Greens locked into a vested interest cartel in favour of the Croke Park deal, it can't.

In place of real debate, expect the usual round of superficial soundbites, personality contests and stupid point scoring.

Established only last December, the National Forum is still too small and underfunded to fight this election.

But it is growing rapidly and beginning to replace the FF/FG/Labour Party/Green Party cartel with a real debate on Ireland's future.

That debate should revolve around a referendum on the bailout. Between cowardly crawling on the one hand and suicide bomber tactics on the other, holding a referendum will allow the next government to approach Brussels and Frankfurt from a position of strength and credibility.

Then, by repairing damaged relations with smaller member states,the forum can lobby to demand four things.

First, a statement recognising that the EU was as much to blame for this crisis as anyone else and that this must be reflected by new bailout terms.

Second, Nicolas Sarkozy must retract his recent comments about our Corporation Tax regime. He and Angela Merkel should denounce how their predecessors Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder undermined the Stability Pact.

Third, the incoming ECB President should acknowledge that low eurozone interest rates were a contributor and that over the next 10 years a sensible average interest rate should be restored.

Fourth, Ireland should be able to access bailout funds at "most favoured borrower" status.

If these are granted, then Germany's request that Ireland install some mechanism to control public spending should be agreed to. Actually, it makes sense and we should do it for our own sake anyway.

Instead of abolishing the Senate, as FG suggests, the National Forum proposes to empower it to police annual deficit limits.

By having the guts to hold a referendum and take the result to Brussels, the next government would show the world that -- as Yeats said -- "We are no petty people."

Marc Coleman presents 'Coleman at Large' at 10pm on Newstalk 106-108fm, Tuesday and Wednesday). He also chairs the National Forum; www.nationalforum.ie

Sunday Independent