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John Drennan: Enda and the EU Chocolate Factory

You might think a referendum, a wedding and a Grand National are very dissimilar, but they do share one common aspect: once the thing starts, it is quite hard to stop it without a great deal of chaos.

Last week, as the tectonic plates of austerity began to crack, a 'No' campaign, faltering under its nihilistic irresponsibility, grabbed desperately at the possibility that there might be a recall of our referendum runners and riders. However, as Richard 'Posh' Boyd Barrett and a Sinn Fein party that is secretly horrified at the political fallout it will experience if a 'No' vote is actually secured, raced up the aisle shouting 'stop', the Government was in no mood to take the placemats off the table and cancel the rest of the do.

Amidst a wildly oscillating EU environment that has affected even the stolid Germans, on the surface it may look as though a cautious decision to wait for the turbulence to pass has a lot of credibility.

However, in a referendum not exactly short of fishy creatures, the suggestion that we should wait to see whether austerity or growth wins is the greatest red herring of all.

Ultimately, our referendum has very little to do with austerity versus growth, for only an idiot or an ideologue would suggest we prefer the former and there are few ideologues in Irish public life.

Instead, in another example of the Irish political virus of plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose, this referendum is really the modern equivalent of the pre-civil war row about the Oath of Allegiance.

Europe is looking for a grand gesture of supplication where Ireland rejects the wild men of Sinn Fein, the ULA, the Mick Wallace Independent Muppet show and Eamon O Cuiv (whose grandfather had his own difficulties with oaths) in favour of knowing our humble place within the new dispensation.

As with Lloyd George, although the fiscal treaty comes accompanied by a metaphorical gun to our head, voting for it is not the worst of alternatives as even blackmail

can be the equivalent of having friends with benefits. In our case, the 'benefits' are that we can continue to choose between the hard or easy versions of austerity.

As with any variant of Home Rule, Yes will also allow us to experience the illusion that we are in charge of our own destiny and that this month's referendum is really just a stepping stone to that new school of independence that is defined by the capacity to borrow on the open market.

Of course, Europe has its own desires, for Hans is even better than Shylock at extracting the full pound of flesh. In particular, Europe wants confirmation that after two flirtations with the eurosceptic camp, to paraphrase Mr Kenny, Paddy finally knows what the real story is.

More importantly still, Europe is anxious to see if Paddy also knows his place.

And if you're wondering what is Paddy's appropriate place, that can be summarised as Paddy saying, if it's austerity you want then we'll vote for it and if it's growth you want, we'll even throw in a little jig.

In fairness, the Government's advocacy of a Yes vote is not simply informed by pig iron or that now the posters have all been bought, it would be a terrible annoyance to pulp all those blue sky images.

Instead the opportunity, or more accurately, the dilemma, facing Enda (and Eamon) is best captured by Roald Dahl's morality tale of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. For the Government, still trying to convince our troika masters that Ireland is now an honest Charlie Bucket rather than an Augustus Gloop, a 'Yes' vote is not unlike winning the golden ticket that allows us board the bus with Francois, Angela and the rest of the respectable folk.

But should Ireland behave like the spoilt Veruca Salt, stamping its feet and tearing up the golden ticket, there is another far less crowded bus containing a fat sweaty guy, surrounded by flies, with the fleur-de-lis of contagion stamped across his forehead. He, in case you are wondering, is Greece and that bus is going to the Fiscal Penitentiary.

The Government's 'referendum now/think later' attitude is also informed by another key strategic factor. The advocates of a 'pragmatic' 'Yes' will also note that Francois, Angela, and those cherished job-creating multinationals are as anxious to experience the joys of stability as our cautious government of the Grumpy Old Men. And in a world where Germany views Greece in the past tense, few will be pleased if any Irish messing (or worse still, a No vote) adds to the chaos.

Indeed, such is the nature of the EU implosion that our 'partners' may even begin to contemplate the delights of a clean break with more than one of the EU's Pigs.

But if Paddy moves smartly and takes the plunge before, rather than after, the good news comes out about a few bob being available for growth, Paddy, who knows the story in these affairs, can expect to be looked after; now that he knows his place again.

In contrast, the game of reductio ad absurdum being played by the 'No' camp is epitomised by the claim that voting 'No' now means we will miss out on the benefits of future growth packages. The problem with that is, to reshape a phrase Gerry and the SF economic creationists would be familiar with, whilst growth packages come and go, austerity is not going to go away any time soon.

It is, even in the amoral world of EU politics, beyond reason to suggest that if Ireland engages in the hard task of voting for austerity, the fiscal Oompa-Loompas of the troika would punish us for our courage (or perhaps deference) in voting this way.

Of course, none of this is to say that the referendum will actually be passed. Before it starts getting cocky, the Government should know 'heavy indeed will be the hearts' of those desiring to vote No, but who, like those citizens in newly occupied cities in a war who wave the flags of their oppressors, feel it may be more circumspect to vote Yes.

We all know the most honourable thing would be to reject the plague of deceit into which the EU has now degenerated. Some of the electorate may even still be planning to indulge in a bit of fooling around with that terrible troika of Mick 'the busted builder' Wallace, Richard 'Posh' Boyd Barrett and Gerry Adams as an alternative to acquiescing in the loveless marriage with those German Gradgrinds whose first words every day are "what I want is austerity".

The problem is that whilst they have no intention of engaging in even a one-night stand with our own terrible troika, when a nice girl, bored with a dull fiance called Enda, goes looking for a bit of attention, fooling around is a dangerous pleasure that can go wrong sometimes.

Even if they are normally cautious, the danger is that the best of girls can get carried away to the extent that they will experience the political equivalent of waking up the next morning in a state of some horror as a fellow with a beard and a Northern accent leans over and says, "Any chance of a cup of tea, love, and by the way, you were great."

That in itself, let alone Mr Gilmore's most un-Reverend Mother-like conjuring up of the spectre of an aroused Boyd Barrett, may be enough to send the cautious Irish electorate scurrying back to the chilly embrace of the EU nurse.

Sunday Independent