Halligan warns about danger of EU referendums

Tue, Aug 14, 2012, 01:00

IRELAND’S MEMBERSHIP of the European Union should be put on the agenda of the forthcoming constitutional convention, a former Labour Party general secretary and Oireachtas member, Brendan Halligan, told the Parnell Summer School in Co Wicklow yesterday.

Mr Halligan, who is chairman of the Institute of International and European Affairs, warned that Ireland’s EU membership was being put “on the line” every time a new treaty was signed because of the requirement to hold a referendum here.

“Ireland could be left further and further behind like a slow runner who becomes more and more detached from the main pack as the race goes on, and that is the risk we run by subjecting each treaty to ratification,” he said.

Mr Halligan said he believed a plethora of new treaties could be expected over the next decade, along with a plethora of referendums.

“The odds of one being lost, I suggest, are unacceptably high given that our economic survival is so utterly if not completely dependent on our continuing membership of the European Union.”

He said the planned constitutional convention should be tasked with coming up with a formula that would express Ireland’s political commitment to membership of the EU as an “enduring policy choice”. If such a proposal was accepted by the people it would leave ratification of future EU treaties in the hands of Dáil Éireann, he said during a discussion session entitled “Ireland and the EU” yesterday afternoon.

People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, speaking from the floor, said the “elephant in the room” was the extent to which the current direction of the EU was responsible for the “catastrophic economic crisis we are now facing”.

Mr Boyd Barrett, speaking earlier as part of a panel discussing economic sovereignty, said the democratic right of Irish citizens to take decisions had been taken away. “Unelected officials from the troika come here every three months and tell our Government what to do,” he said.

He said the formal handing over of economic sovereignty was the culmination of a “critically flawed” attitude to the economy that had “gripped the world”. A consensus emerged that “markets are all-powerful and we must submit to them,” he said.

“Ireland was the poster boy of neo-liberalism and heralded as such during the boom.”

Fine Gael TD Paschal Donohoe likened the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) to the Hotel California in his contribution to the debate on economic sovereignty. “Once you check into it you can never leave,” he warned, paraphrasing the hit song by The Eagles. The ESM is the euro zone’s permanent bailout fund.

Mr Donohoe said Ireland had been at or near the top of any measure of how a country could integrate itself with the outside world. However, the State could not be continually reliant on the savings of other countries to fund essential services and the domestic banking system had to be capable of funding itself.

He cautioned that “the idea that people have no choice” could destroy the EU.

Ibec’s director of policy and international affairs Brendan Butler said the troika had moved from an initial position of being “very rigid” to handing a lot of power back to the Irish Government. “We think at this stage the troika has gone native,” he said.

Mr Butler said Ibec believed the future of Ireland was “very bright”, adding that the food and drink sector was the “jewel in the crown” of the economy.

Socialist Party MEP Paul Murphy said people should not believe that only the “high priests of the economy” could understand economics. He said a strategy had been adopted by the establishment within Europe to use the shock created by the economic crisis to “embed neo-liberal policies and put them beyond the democratic control and scrutiny” of the people of Ireland and elsewhere.