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It's not rocket science: it has to be Yes to treaty

ON May 31, we'll be asked to vote on the new European Fiscal Compact Treaty.

The title is a mouthful, but when all the jargon is left to one side, the treaty is really quite simple.

In plain language, it asks countries to live within their means. In other words, we can't spend more on schools, hospitals and services than we take in from taxes. This isn't rocket science: every person living on a budget knows that you can't spend what you don't have. This year, we've borrowed €10bn just to run the country.

We can't keep doing this. When you look at the financial mess countries such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain are in, strict spending rules are obviously vital.

As well as asking us to budget responsibly, the treaty also provides a new EU rescue fund, the €700bn European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

But if we don't sign the treaty, we're not eligible for the fund. We can't afford to ignore this kind of insurance policy. It offers reassurance to companies like Eli Lilly, Microsoft, Paypal, Sky, HP and Apple, who have all recently invested here.

They do this because we are a safe bet, and because we are at the heart of Europe.

Despite what some people claim, a No vote won't stop the treaty from happening. For it to take effect, only 12 out of the 17 eurozone countries need to sign up.

Most of them have already done that: this train is leaving whether we're on it or not. If we vote No, we will still be members of the euro. But let's not pretend that a No vote won't make a difference in the way other EU countries look at us.



Fairytale

Do we really want to risk leaving ourselves vulnerable and isolated? Don't believe the fairytale that voting No will end austerity. A No vote doesn't affect our deal with the Troika.

That deal means we're fully funded until 2015, but it also means we still have to reduce our deficit to under 3pc of GDP by then.

If we vote No, we will have no access to the ESM. Why would we deliberately cut off guaranteed access to these funds, at a lower interest rate than we are likely to find elsewhere?

What if the bond markets are still nervous about Ireland? What if rates go up?

I am not a risk-taker. I like to plan ahead. I like certainty. This treaty offers us a plan. The No vote offers only uncertainty.

If we vote Yes, the treaty will come into effect over a period of time. We won't have to balance our books overnight, as some of the No side are claiming. Some of the measures in the treaty can be done over 20 years.

Austerity

Controlling our budget is in our interest. It will prevent political parties "buying" elections. Remember the 2002 and 2007 elections - and the budgets immediately before them? Because of those elections, Ireland is now facing the equivalent the huge credit card bill after a shopping splurge.

Some people claim the treaty will bring more "austerity". I have really come to hate that word; it's just a more dramatic way of saying we have to cut spending. Yes, we will.

But a No vote could mean we have to cut spending by a lot more - as no one can tell us where we find future funding.

The No side keeps talking about this Government's cuts. What they forget is that we've kept basic social welfare rates the same, restored the minimum wage to €8.65, exempted 320,000 more people from the universal social charge, and honoured the Croke Park agreement.

A No vote brings uncertainty, undermines confidence and makes companies question investing here. They'll ask if we're in the EU or not, if we're serious about solving our crisis or not? Have we learned from our mistakes or not?

As a teacher, I always advised students to read an exam question carefully. When they were finished I advised them to read it again - and then again.

On May 31, you'll be asked whether Ireland should adopt the Stability Treaty. The question is not: do you agree with septic tank charges?

If everyone makes sure they know the question they're being asked, we'll pass this test with flying colours.

Mary Mitchell O'Connor is a Fine Gael TD


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