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Don't be fooled by appearances - we are no longer a sovereign nation


Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald launching the Fine Gael ‘Yes’ campaign at the start of the marriage equality referendum

Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald launching the Fine Gael ‘Yes’ campaign at the start of the marriage equality referendum

Steve Humphreys

Simon Coveney and Frances Fitzgerald launching the Fine Gael ‘Yes’ campaign at the start of the marriage equality referendum

Ireland is not really a sovereign country. It only appears that way.

Any country that is heavily debt-laden the way we are will not be truly free. Your first job is always to repay your creditors. You are working for them first and only then for yourself.

When the troika was here, our lack of economic freedom was completely obvious. We're regained a little more freedom since then. The Government can now play around with tax rates and spending a bit, against the advice of the Fiscal Council and the ESRI let it be added, but it had much less room for manoeuvre a year ago.

At the end of the day, however, budgetary policy can't diverge too much from what the EU wants or what the troika wants or what our creditors generally want.

Also, and very importantly, we don't set our own interest rates and we don't have our own currency.

Then there are the multi-nationals. Our economic health depends hugely on them, so much so that we dare not do anything to irk them.

To some extent, of course, a small country will always be at the mercy of other forces more than larger countries will be, but let's not exaggerate this too much. A small country like Singapore - a city state really - manages to stand on its own two feet pretty well. That's because it is supremely well managed.

So that's the economic freedom side of the ledger. What about other aspects of sovereignty - our control over social issues, for example?

There, too, we have less freedom than we think. A lot of social policy is now decided by Brussels.

We are also a member of the Council of Europe, which means we are beholden to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights to some extent. We introduced our first abortion law two years ago partly as a result of a ruling by that court.

In addition, we are a member of the UN. We have signed numerous UN treaties and covenants. These treaties and covenants are not legally binding on us. Nonetheless, once you sign them, you agree to have your progress implementing them reviewed every few years by the relevant UN committee.

This week, Ireland went before the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Ireland is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Among the rights to be found in it is the right to work, to join a trade union, the right to social insurance, the right to physical and mental health, the right of mothers to be properly cared for in the months before and after birth, the recognition of the family as "the natural and fundamental group unit of society" and recognition that it deserves "the widest possible protection and assistance". The list goes on.

Let's stop now for a moment and ponder something. Not a single one of the above rights can be guaranteed to all the people all of the time.

What government can guarantee 100pc employment? Some companies don't allow trade union membership. No government can come close to guaranteeing that we will all enjoy full health all of the time.

Does this mean that none of these rights exist? Well, if you apply the logic used by Simon Coveney during the marriage referendum, then the answer has to be 'no'.

During the referendum, he said he did not think children have a right to a mother and a father because that right cannot be guaranteed.

Therefore, he ought not to believe in any of the rights listed in the above-mentioned Covenant because none of those rights can always be guaranteed to everyone either.

Enough of that, though. The various UN documents we have signed up to can be interpreted in all sorts of ways.

Take, for example, Article 12 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which deals with health.

Among other things, it commits signatories to recognising "the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health."

It also commits them to providing "for the reduction of the still-birth rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child".

Out of this article some people have conjured up a 'right' to an abortion. This takes a lot of imagination.

You can see immediately that anyone who believes in the right to an abortion clearly does not believe that "the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health" includes the child developing in the womb.

The next portion referring to the "healthy development of the child" clearly does not cover the unborn child either in the opinion of these abortion advocates.

But several leading Irish abortion campaigners appeared before the relevant UN committee this week to argue with an entirely straight face that Article 12 creates a right to an abortion. The opposite could more easily be argued.

These advocates, representing various Irish NGOs, have plenty of allies on the UN committee. That's how it works, you see.

NGOs appear before a committee filled to the brim with ideological allies.

The NGOs then attack the country appearing before the committee - in this case Ireland. The committee members agree with them and then lecture Ireland (or whatever country) for not interpreting and implementing the relevant UN treaty or covenant according to their tendentious interpretation.

Two pro-life organisations also appeared before the committee this week, namely Family & Life and the Pro-Life Campaign, and offered excellent testimony. But they were heavily outnumbered and the committee members were mostly unsympathetic.

Labour's Sean Sherlock represented the Irish Government before the committee. He basically agreed with its members about our abortion law, but defended Ireland's economic policy from the charge that it was unfair on the poor.

What he should really have done was attack the committee for huge mission overreach.

He should have defended Irish sovereignty.

When Australia appeared before these committees while John Howard was prime minister, the Australians fought back. For the most part, our governments tug the forelock.

It's astounding. At one level we value our independence highly. In actuality, we have frittered it away in numerous different ways.

We can win back a measure of economic independence by paying off our debts.

We can win back our independence from supra-national bodies like the UN much more easily - by standing up to them. Grow a spine. Stop tugging the forelock. Don't let them sit in judgment on us. It's that simple, if the will is there. It's not. That's the problem.

Irish Independent