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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: May 8, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

    Referendum

    Harry McGee

    There’s just over three weeks to go to the fiscal treaty referendum. And it’s the only show in town at the moment, with Eamon O Cuiv and Fianna Fail providing a fascinating sideshow.
    The Irish Times, as part of its online expansion, will be hosting a major debate on video between Simon Coveney and Mary Lou McDonald. It will be uploaded to our website tomorrow morning and will be one of a number of new innovations to our service we will be introducing during the referendum.


    I was chatting to a number of TDs and a few backroom people this morning and they were all saying that they have not reached the foothills of the campaign yet; that the real high altitude stuff will only begin from next week on.
    Government TDs are hearing some criticisms of u-turns and extra taxes. But most people don’t seem fully engaged yet. There are quite a lot of people still saying they don’t really know what it’s about. That is not worrying yet for the Yes camp but if they are still saying it in vast numbers next week, they will be worried, and very worried indeed!
    The issues being thrashed out in the public domain at the moment are divided between treaty issues and peripheral stuff. The extraneous matter is from the ‘put the fear of God into them’ school. For the yes side it’s Michael Noonan promising a tougher Budget in December; for the No side it’s the ULA saying a Yes vote will mean higher water charges and household taxes etc.
    There’s a lot of techncial to-ing and fro-ing about Article 136 of the Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union. As the title of a Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin movie said (rather blatantly), ‘It’s Complicated’. There will be an addition to this TFEU article, essentially giving recognition within that treaty to the bailout mechanism, the ESM. That addition needs to be ratified by the Oireachtas. The No camp say the Government can refuse to do so in the event of a No vote and, ergo, ‘veto’ the establishment of the ESM. The Yes side say the ESM will be up and running for at least six months by the time it comes to incorporating the addition to Article 136 into Irish law. And that it makes no difference. The Referendum Commission has made some general comments about Article 136 but says that the type of question being asked of it by the likes of Sinn Fein and the ULA is outside its ambit. So the question has not been settled yet to the satisfaction of neutrals.
    The election of Francois Hollande in France may complicate things for the Yes camp. Why is he talking about growth and expansion while we are being asked to sign up to a Treaty that makes no reference to same, only to austerity and hardship.
    The big obstacle for the NO side is explaining what will happen if there is a No vote and we can’t have access to the ESM. How will Ireland manage to bridge the €14bn – €18bn gap between income and expenditure? Sinn Fein’s and the UlA’s answers are from the Utopian school of politics (ie effect a revolution across Europe) and call for root and branch change across the EU that would be inconceivable in the real world.
    In any instance, we are getting our first view of the peak ahead and the overhangs that must be crossed by both sides. Three weeks of tough uphill battle lie ahead, for both sides.


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