Opinion Shane Ross

Sunday 26 May 2019

Shane Ross: Government forcing us to vote 'Yes' in vacuum

We can still postpone the referendum by defeating it and have our say again when clouds over Europe clear, writes Shane Ross

HOW can we be expected to vote 'Yes' to the treaty? It should have been postponed. We can still achieve postponement by defeating it. If we do, despite the Government's denials, there will be a second referendum in the autumn.

Many of us, passionately pro-European, want to support the European project. We want to vote 'Yes'. We cannot because we are being compelled to vote in a twilight zone.

The full package is shrouded in uncertainty. Little light will be shed on it until long after the polls close on Thursday.

For several weeks I have been trying to persuade the Government to postpone polling day. I even introduced a Bill in the Dail to allow it. They rubbished it.

We are dancing to Angela Merkel's timetable, not the Irish people's. Germany is still calling the shots. There was no reason to hold the referendum before the year end.

By then the clouds will have cleared. By then we will know whether the promised changes to soften austerity will have been enacted. By then we will see the real colour of the growth measures, if any. By then we will have a fuller picture of the Greek crisis.

Instead, we are being asked to lock ourselves into a prison of measures which only tell half the story. The second part, the promised growth compact may -- or may not -- follow. One is conditional on the other. The president of France has seen to that.

Francois Hollande will not sign the treaty unless he secures a growth pact. Whether the growth pact is written into the treaty text is irrelevant. He will not ratify one without the other.

Even the mighty Germany is holding back, adding to the confusion. Only four out of 25 nations have ratified. The rest are shrewdly watching from the sidelines, waiting to see what emerges from the summit on June 28.

They know that their vital national interests are at stake on that date. So are ours. Sadly, we will have voted.

Will there be project bonds in the second part of the package? Will there be revised structural funds? What injection will come from the European Investment Bank? If Ireland has passed the treaty by then, we will be lame observers at the top table. The rush to judgement could cost us dear.

Even the empty threat that no funds will be available for the inevitable second bailout should be removed by December 31. It is inconceivable that Greece would be saved and Ireland abandoned. We are a better risk. Politics, not economics, will dictate that we are accommodated.

The informal summit last Wednesday was another tour de force for Germany. Hollande's -- and Ireland's -- eurobonds, were shot down, a dead duck. The stimulus package never materialised. Lipservice alone was paid to growth.

Afterwards, the Taoiseach could only weakly praise the "momentum" behind the growth agenda. "Momentum" has not translated into measures.

We may even be fooling ourselves about a parallel growth pact. It may be a phantom project. We simply will not know before Thursday. French growth and German austerity are competing bedfellows. On past experience Germany will prevail. But we do not know.

A growth package may even contain hidden grenades for Ireland. What if Germany, supported by France, decrees that it must be funded by a financial transactions tax? Our financial services centre could collapse. Our objections would be dismissed as the mutterings of a craven country which has stumbled blindfold into a cul-de-sac because it could not wait for a few key months. Europe was never in a greater state of flux. Ireland will have whistled past the graveyard.

I want to support a fiscal treaty. Like many other potential 'Yes' voters I feel forced to vote against this incomplete package -- the only way to postpone it, awaiting full clarity. The Government has rushed us into voting 'Yes' in a vacuum. I cannot, and will not, do that. If we defeat it, little will be lost. During the summer the clouds will clear over Europe. We will be able to vote again, this time on a the full package in the autumn. Richard Bruton told us so.

Shane Ross is an Independent TD for Dublin South

Sunday Independent

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