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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: August 22, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

    Stark Honesty (for once) in Leinster House

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    Maybe it’s the Dog Days of August but there is an air of considerable fatalism in Leinster House these days. Talking to seasoned politicians this week, two strong messages came forward, both of them surprising to a greater or lesser extent.


     Gloom and doom at Leinster House (Photograph by Alan Betson)

    The first was – and this one took your humble scribe aback – that Lisbon is a dead duck, a goner, not a hope in hell. I protested that, surely the people would vote Yes out of sheer naked fear of making the economic situation even worse.

    Nope, I was told by a highly-experienced (and pro-EU) Fianna Fáil backbencher. The farmers are voting against en bloc and don’t pay any attention to what their leaders are saying. (I should point out that the executive council of the Irish Farmers’ Association has voted unanimously to recommend a Yes to Lisbon.)

    But surely the possibility of negative economic results will deter people from voting No a second time, I suggested? Another TD, from the Labour side, said he believed there was a “death-wish” among the electorate.

    More narrowly, I discussed the likely outcome of the next election with two FF backbenchers who have been through many a battle. “Where we have two seats, we’ll come back with one; where we have three, we’ll come back with two.”

    Startling in its honesty an starkness. Another interesting comment, concerning the state of things in Teach Laighean: “When this place gets into a wobble, it hardly ever gets out of it.”

    Last night, though, your intrepid reporter made his way to Tullamore for a press conference with the Taoiseach. It has to be said that Mr Cowen looked and sounded relaxed and unruffled.

    I asked him if his mood reflected his assessment of the political situation or the good Galway air he was breathing on his holidays. He quipped: “A bit of both.”

    He expressed himself quite willing to accept “appropriate” amendments to the National Asset Management Agency (Nama) legislation, from the Greens or any other source, provided that such changes did not alter the basic thrust of the Bill and of government banking policy.

    Enda Kenny had a somewhat uncomfortable interview on the News at One radio programme on RTE. Asked repeatedly about the cost of Fine Gael’s proposals, he did not provide a figure. Precision is a scarce commodity in the Nama debate. Probably his best answer would have been to say that the Government has failed to provide exact figures for its own proposals and that it’s just not possible at this stage to specify precise sums. Maybe instead of writing for this blog, I should go into the lucrative field of media training?

    • Romano says:

      Maybe you should, we definitely need a whole lot of new blood to run this country if we are ever to get out of this mess.

    • Brian Boru says:

      I hope they’re right where Lisbon is concerned. There is no evidence that Lisbon will revive the economy, and some that it might have the opposite effect. Since Spain voted yes to the EU Constitution, unemployment has doubled to 18%. If as IBEC claims, a yes vote is part of our economic recovery, then why – given what they claim is the importance of “reputation” in Brussels – didn’t it help the Spanish economy in these recessionary times? I’m voting no primarily because of the Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as the wording in the proposed Article 29.4.7 of the Irish Constitution.
      Article 15(1) of the Charter states that ‘everyone has the right to work’, making a ECJ challenge to our ban on asylum-seekers working inevitable. The proposed Article 29.4.7. (contained in the 28th amendment to the Constitution Bill 2009) would both allow the government surrender the optout Protocol on the Position of the UK and Ireland with respect to the Area of Justice and Freedom (which had allowed Ireland opt-in/out on a case by case basis on common policies in Justice and Home Affairs), as well as allowing the Government, with the (inevitable) consent of the Oireachtas, to take us into the Schengen Area.
      Schengen would abolish passport checks at Irish ports and airports, increasing people-trafficking into the State. The corporate elites support Lisbon just as they support Nice because they want more cheap labour from outside the country. The latest Live Register figures showed an actual drop in the numbers of foreign-nationals by 132, while the figure for Irish nationals rose around 12,000. This suggests to me that displacement is going on in this economy, and I have no intention of exacerbating it. Vote no.

    • Diarmuid says:

      “Since Spain voted yes to the EU Constitution, unemployment has doubled to 18%.”

      Since Ireland voted NO to the Lisbon treaty, unemployment has doubled to 12%

    • steve white says:

      perhaps saying ‘voting no is death wish’ is part of the problem

    • BetterWorld Now says:

      I think your FF backbencher is being overly optimistic about his re-election chances.

      2 out of 3 ain’t bad odds. I’d take them and run to the country if I was him. And the sooner the better – it’s only going to get worse.

      As for Lisbon II, Patsy McGarry’s rehash of the notorious Lisbon 1 “bedfellows” article has resuscitated (or is that resurrected?) the real activists who turned out the “ordinary people” to vote against their betters the last time around.

      Respecting the will of the “ordinary people” used to be called democracy – until the political elite and their spin doctors found a way of rigging the vote.

      And look where that got us all.

      The great unwashed (as Patsy would prefer to have called them if his editor hadn’t picked it up) see the link between democratic deficits, majority voting, NAMA, bankers, brown envelopes, hospital trolleys, toothless tribunals and the Galway tent.

      Its clear to them (and correspondingly less clear to the well-heeled) because each one has hit them, or will hit them, where it hurts – in their pockets. And it doesn’t get any more personal in Ireland than that.

      Lisbon is about retaking control.

      And it really did start on the Late Late Show here: tinyurl.com/7gguzh

    • Enda says:

      @Brian Boru
      “Since Spain voted yes to the EU Constitution, unemployment has doubled to 18%”…… except the EU constitution was never adopted or implemented. So please tell me how can a treaty which was never implemented affect Spain’s unemployment rate? I know it’s a Monday morning Brian but that particular line is really, really dumb…

    • Brian Boru says:

      Enda, the reason I brought up Spain is that IBEC maintain there is a reputational element to the economic situation in this country. Were that the case, then surely the converse must also be true – that a ‘reputational’ boost from voting for European integration would boost the economy? But it hasn’t proven to be so in the case of the Spanish economy. What it underlines is that Lisbon has absolutely nothing to do with the recovery of this economy. Indeed, in a recession, the last thing we need are Lisbon’s provisions opening up our labour-market to asylum-seekers (Article 15(1) Charter of Fundamental Rights), which would make life yet harder for the plain people of Ireland trying to find work. Also, the referendum legislation contains elements threatening to Irish jobs, such as the proposed Article 29.4.7, allowing the Government to take us (with the inevitable support of the Oireachtas), into the Schengen area, abolishing passport checks at Irish ports and airports for travellers entering Ireland from 25 Schengen states. There was a report in the Danish newspaper Aftonposten recently about senior police officers complaining that Schengen was increasing people/weapons/drugs trafficking into the country. I have grave concerns about the prospect of Ireland entering Schengen without the UK, and coming under the Charter of Fundamental Rights without the UK. The result would be that illegals in the UK would travel to Ireland, where – unlike in the UK – they would be entitled to work. It reminds me of the scenario of 2004, when we were inundated with migrant labour in spite of it being played down in the Nice II campaign, with no campaigners accused of ‘xenophobia’ for predicting what did actually happen. And so it was that with Nice, for once the no side turned out to be correct, and the eyes of those who had always voted yes began to be opened to the race to the bottom within the EU, which I blame on the politicians – not the migrants.

    • Robespierre says:

      Really some of this is bunkum.

      Co-relation in mathematics requires proximate cause and effect stemming for a single source.

      To state that Spain, a country which has had double digit unemployment since it adopted democracy 30 odd years ago has witnessed a two-fold increase in redundancy because of Lisbon/the EU constitution is moronic.

      Unemployment is up everywhere. I am a professional outsourcer and move jobs all of the world both to and from Ireland. Lisbon is absolutely critical to maintaining our image of commercial and polictical stability.

      If you don’t believe me look at the statement issued by Accenture when they moved their Global Headquarters here recently. Look at statement by IBEC.

      We have over 1/2 a million jobs generated or sustained by multi-national investment in Ireland. Take away our image as a english speaking gateway to Europe with moderate taxes on profits and you will see a corelation of an entirely different nature. That is factual.

      I not you haven’t mentioned the exponential increase in FDI in the eastern block countries since they joined the EU. I note Belarus and the Ukraine and even Croatia have yet to receive such a dividend. Of course the benefits of an open market on 500 million had nothing to do with that. Its probably down to some pseudo-conspiracy. Cot robbing partially terminated foetus’ for conscription into an army of the living dead or something to that effect.

    • Desmond FitzGerald says:

      Frankly, no one has a clue if Lisbon is in the EU’s interests or not and if it falls the sky won’t fall in. Ireland won’t be kicked out of the EU or sidelined. A dose of reality in the corridors of power – be they in Brussels or Dublin is never a bad thing. The pressure on us to vote yes is down to Lisbon being a pet project of an elite who are not used to being told no and not because it’s crucial to the EU.

      All it is is a treaty to change things – some things barely at all and others quite radically – and the amazing thing is that the elite were so stupid not to break it up into a few different questions rather than ask for a yes or no.

      Furthermore, punishing Ireland for expressing a voice, however annoying, will reveal to EU citizens the yawning gap of accountability for EU officials and politicians and it will mean other EU countries’ citizens will feel sorry for us and demand to know why we are being punished.

      So if we vote no expect a meek ‘we are disappointed’ press release but life will carry on as before.

      But the wider question remains that when our ‘betters’ tell us to vote a certain way we instinctively lean in the opposite direction. This is an issue that politicians need to face up to because they caused it by their corruption and gombeenism and circling the wagons defence of each other. They need to apologise and publicly admit their role in causing this attitude.

      People want to see politicians being named and held to account as well as the officials who whisper in their ear. So far not a single politician or official has been held to account for anything since 1997 and people are sick of it.

      Enda Kenny answered a question honestly in an off the cuff phone interview and rather than lying and making up a figure he honestly said there is no exactly figure. Yet he gets lampblasted. Instead the media and others should be pointing out that the reason he can’t put a figure on it is because the banks are refusing to provide honest and verifiable details of loans and deparmtnet of finance staff are told not to provide access to proper information to the opposition.

      That’s the real disgrace.

    • Harry Leech says:

      It’s heartening to see how committed the FF backbencher is to the EU that he has already given up on the Lisbon Treaty: His deeply held beliefs and his massive salary seem insufficient to spur him into action. What more does it take?

      Does anyone remember what Ireland was like before the EU or has our collective consciousness been clouded so much by the heady years of the Celtic Tiger? I’m too young to remember the worst of it, but I do remember watching the 6 o’clock news as a child in the early 1980′s when the only news was emigration, unemployment and yet another killing in Northern Ireland. And that was as things were starting to get better and the EU had already started paying for our roads to be repaired.

      We were essentially a second world country with infrastructure to match, were cowed into compliance by a church that dictated that contraception was not to be permitted to believer and non-believer alike and the country was a drab, insular place. The best and the brightest either emigrated or resigned themselves to life in a backward state run by corrupt politicians (by which I mean Squire Haughey and his ilk.)

      There are positive and negative sides to every single choice we make in life and the Lisbon treaty is no difference. Ireland convinced itself before the last Lisbon vote that they could have all of the rights and none of the responsibilities of the EU. As with the Celtic Tiger, the country got greedy.

      The EU has, for the most part been good for Ireland. The question about Lisbon is, would you prefer that there was oversight and scrutiny of our governments actions by the European parliament or would you prefer we be left with the likes of Ray Bourke, Charlie Haughey and Liam Lawlor and their ideological successors?

      I shudder to think how much worse things would have been in Ireland without the EU. This country would be a basket case that would make Iceland’s economy seem like some minor pyramid scheme.

      Lisbon? Count me in.

    • BetterWorld Now says:


      Just as the ecomomic arguments in favour of the NAMA proposal have begun to turn against it (see today’s Irish Times, for example), the econimic arguments in favour of Lisbon will also become more nuassanced over the next few weeks. I suggest that a NO vote would actually boost the Irish economy, here’s why:

      The way developed economies traditionally cope with recessions is by the judicious and timely devaluation of their currencies. The US has devalued the dollar, the UK has devalued sterling and both have benefited – their exports are cheaper and their imports discouraged by being higher priced. Ireland is deprived of that option by virtue of its membership of the Euro. In fact the value of the Euro has soared as capital has flooded in from devalued currencies. This has made Irish exports to the US and Britian and the rest of the world much less compeditive.

      By voting NO, Ireland can deliver a boost to the EU economy by precipitating a temporary flight of capital from Euro denominated stocks by footloose global investors, thereby lowering the value of the Euro relative to the alternative traded global currencies.

      A NO vote at this point in the economic cycle could just be the boost that Ireland and (the weaker Eurozone economies) need.

      A YES, on the other hand, will ensure that the German pensioner’s legendary preoccupation with the value of their deposit accounts remains the dominant concern of the Frankfurt based ECB and a much needed economic boost will be squandered.

      It is widely held that the German government has been way behind the curve in dealing with the global credit crisis and, as a result, through its dominant influence on ECB policy, has ensured that the recession in Europe has been sharper than it otherwise could have been, if, for example, the French or British expansionist lead had been followed.

      Ireland can circumvent the ECB and actually deliver a boost to the Eurozone economies by voting NO.

      And the more resolute the NO, the bigger will be the boost. A 70/30 result might even provide sufficient stimulus to Irish exports to result in an expansion of employment in that sector by making exports cheaper (and Irish wages more competitive).

      That has to be the holy grail of Irish economic policy, as it would signal the end of the recession in Ireland which would in turn be enough to restart the Irish property market.

      Another advantage is that, under those circumstances, the whole NAMA proposition would become an infinitely less risky option for the Irish taxpayers than it would otherwise be.

      Irish voters can have some confidence that voting NO will deliver the best short-term fix to our current economic ills.

      It is a once-in-a-lifetime opertunity to deliver both a positive economic stimulus and take a positive political stance in favour of democracy.

    • Span Ows says:

      “The first was – and this one took your humble scribe aback – that Lisbon is a dead duck, a goner, not a hope in hell”

      Careful this isn’t a ploy to talk down the “yes” to create a false sense of security in the “No” camp and so many floating voters voting yes out of “sympathy”! Stranger things have happened.

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