Monday 16 September 2019

John Bruton: The touching faith of Sinn Fein ... and why Shane Ross is too clever by half

Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald pictured outside Leinster House with a Sinn Fein Poster Calling for a NO Vote and a Fine Gael/Labour [ calling for a yes vote]in the upcoming Fiscal Treaty Referendum. Photo: Frank McGrath
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald pictured outside Leinster House with a Sinn Fein Poster Calling for a NO Vote and a Fine Gael/Labour [ calling for a yes vote]in the upcoming Fiscal Treaty Referendum. Photo: Frank McGrath

ONE of the remarkable revelations of this Referendum campaign is the touching faith Sinn Fein now has in the altruism and high mindedness of the EU.

Sinn Fein say they believe that, even if Ireland rejects a Fiscal Treaty that explicitly says only those who ratify it will be eligible to apply for the ESM, the other EU countries so love Ireland, that they will break the rules, and give us money from the ESM anyway, even if that means taking money away from countries who have ratified it.

This level of Europhilia must be without precedent, especially from a party that is actually opposed to EU membership. It raises questions about Sinn Fein’s previous stance on the EU. But that is for another day.

The speed of developments, in the past week, underline how wrong it would be for Irish voters to follow the advice of another more recent advocate of a No vote, Deputy Shane Ross.

He seems to be saying we should vote No to the Fiscal Treaty this week, with the intent of trying afterwards to extract unspecified concessions from our EU partners, and then vote again some other week .

The phrase, “too clever by half”, springs to mind in regard to this proposal. I believe the situation facing the euro is now far too serious for playing juvenile games. There is no time for this sort of manipulative procrastination.

Deputy Ross forgets that the other 26 member states of the EU are democracies too, whose voters have to be satisfied if Ireland is to get any concessions. . Some feel that they are already paying too much, and others feel that they do not want to endure more austerity just to help Ireland out, and if there is any cheap money going, they should have it, not us.

To follow Deputy Ross’ delaying tactic would be a huge mistake for two reasons, one positive and one negative. First the positive reason.

In the next week or two, a way may be found to enable either the EFSF or the ESM to invest directly in the Spanish Banks. If Ireland has by then already endorsed the Fiscal Compact, we would have a good case for claiming that any concession afforded to Spain, should also be extended to Ireland, either in respect of our existing Promissory note debt, or in regard to any new needs for recapitalisation of our banks because of increased mortgage arrears (just as we gained from the interest rate concession that arose in the Greek case).

If Ireland, knowing that the Fiscal Compact Treaty says that only countries that have ratified it will be eligible for the ESM, were to reject the Treaty in a Referendum, we would have no claim to get whatever Spain gets for its banks. We would have scored a spectacular own goal.

The terms of the Fiscal Compact, ruling Ireland out, would then be rigorously enforced and the limited amount of money in the ESM and ESFF would be eagerly taken up by the many other countries whose banks are also in need.

Second, the negative reason.

Solidarity is always something that operates on a reciprocal basis. The uncertain electoral situation in Greece heightens concern about a possible breakup of the euro.

That is the big subliminal worry on everybody’s mind this week, because it would have truly disastrous economic consequences for all European countries, particularly France and Germany, who could see their GDP drop by up to 12pc.

While an Irish NO vote would not in fact bring such a breakup of the euro about, and might have no effect, that is not the way it could be seen by, or represented to , the voters in Germany and France.

Ireland, if it votes No a third time, could become the scapegoat, and be blamed for things for which it would not responsible, including influencing, by unwise example, an anti bailout election result in Greece, and thus also be blamed for endangering the euro as a whole .

Nationalistic elements in Germany and France would seize on this and could misrepresent an Irish NO, in the wake of our previous No votes to the Nice and Lisbon Treaties, as indicating a reckless lack of commitment on the part of Irish voters to the euro.

As a result of that perception, they would resist very strongly any attempt by their Governments to help Ireland out, and one could even expect a case to be brought to the German Constitutional Court to block any concession to Ireland.

All the negative arguments would be deployed, including the fact that we got the famous 8 billion to enable us to prepare for the euro, and if it we were still not able to hack it with that help, it was our own fault, and that we were engaging in unfair tax competition.

Of course, these arguments would make little sense, but irrationality and insular thinking are not confined to Ireland.

These are sleeping dogs we do not need to kick!

That is why a YES vote makes sense, particularly for the newly minted Europhiles in Sinn Fein.

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