Monday 19 August 2019

Rory Hearne: 'We were made to shoulder burden of last EU crisis - that cannot happen again'

Tough message: Leo Varadkar must make the EU listen to what everyone in Ireland needs. Picture: PA
Tough message: Leo Varadkar must make the EU listen to what everyone in Ireland needs. Picture: PA

Rory Hearne

So this is no-deal Brexit and what have you done, dear Taoiseach? What have you done, beyond the backstop (which is fragile), to get the EU to help cushion us against a Brexit-triggered downturn? And what has your Government done to prepare our economy, and ensure workers and families are protected?

The Government's past and present behaviour doesn't bode well for us. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael-led governments not only failed to protect citizens through the last recession but bended the knee to Brussels and made us pay the price through austerity. How will it be different this time in a Bre-cession?

The dominant media narrative is that Leo and Simon have donned the Green Jersey and stood up well for Ireland's interests in Brexit negotiations. They assume the EU 'has our backs'. But that is naïve and ignores how Ireland was made to shoulder the majority of European banking debt in the last crisis.

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History shows we could be thrown under the red Brexit bus if it suits the EU agenda. So we need to stand up and get EU leaders and citizens publicly on our side.

Also, we do need to ask when Leo and Simon don the Green Jersey, who are they actually playing for? Who are the sponsors on their jersey? We can be pretty sure it isn't the average worker and families that are utmost on their mind. Their jerseys are emblazoned with corporate and financial Ireland logos. They bang the drum loudly for Ireland's low tax haven regime but are silent when it comes to debt relief or flexibility on fiscal rules that would enable the Government to support families and business better through the impending Brexit shock.

In the last recession, poverty rates doubled, leaving a shocking 760,000 people in poverty in Ireland today. Austerity cut capital investment, services, wages and welfare, and we ended up with a lost decade of huge personal stress, a third of children pushed into deprivation, our current housing crisis and a generation forced to emigrate.

The Government could have pushed the EU harder for a better debt deal and reduce austerity. The State could have invested in public projects rather than cutting, which plunged us further into a longer recession. Where is the planning to prevent the same scenario in Brexit?

The Government and the EU can play a leading role in mitigating the effects of a no-deal Brexit. Rather than tighter fiscal policy and irresponsible tax cuts we need an investment-led Budget in October. It should be framed as an emergency intervention, fast-tracking Project 2040, doubling the investment levels in cost rental and affordable homes, childcare, health care, mental health, and sustainable enterprise shifting to low carbon. They all need to be done irrespective of how Brexit rolls, and a major investment programme will guarantee jobs and spending and cushion whatever happens in Brexit. Ireland needs flexibility from the EU on fiscal rules, investment support from the EIB and ECB, and debt restructuring.

Businesses in the sectors most affected by Brexit need to be supported to reduce the impact on wages and redundancies, and workers need increased protection, trade union support and real collective bargaining legislation.

Brexit devours time and attention like a soap opera but it is a symptom of a deeper malaise of inequality and citizen exclusion that affects not just the UK but Ireland and across Europe. We can laugh or cry at Boris but it was decades of neoliberal policies that created the ground of inequality from which he could gain support. The self-declared centrist vision and policies (essentially pro-market, pro-big finance and anti workers' rights and a strong public service and welfare state) for Europe have been a major factor in the 2008 financial crash, the growing social divide, Brexit and the ongoing EU crisis.

The UK is not alone on the path to self-destruction. The EU itself has not adequately addressed the causes of the 2008 crisis and its role in them. It has not reformed significantly enough towards creating a citizen-centred and fairer Europe.

With the pain of the last recession still fresh and still being felt, civil society, communities, business and trade unions are not going to - nor should they - stay silent as living standards and rights are threatened in a Bre-cession or downturn.

As a strong and central member of the EU we need to make our voice heard and not just be told what we need by Europe. We have to start responding as an independent nation, in partnership with the EU. We need a cross EU PR offensive that makes the case for the open Border, flexibility on the fiscal rules and EU investment in Ireland to buffer against the shock of no-deal Brexit.

If we are to show Britain has taken the wrong path with Brexit then the EU needs to protect and invest in Ireland. To get that the Taoiseach needs to assert on the international stage what everyone in Ireland needs to get through the no-deal scenario, and the EU needs to listen and act.

Irish Independent

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