Sharp exchanges and accusations in TV debate

Tue, May 22, 2012, 01:00

LEADING CAMPAIGNERS from both sides of the referendum debate clashed sharply several times in the course of the televised Frontline debate on RTÉ last night, with each side accusing the other of peddling “fairytale” solutions.

The hour-long debate descended into chaos on several occasions, with the four speakers being interrupted by their rivals and by members of the audience. At one stage, host Pat Kenny was forced to shout down a farmer advocating a No vote, who claimed that passing the fiscal treaty would end the Common Agriculture Policy for Ireland.

Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore and businesswoman Norah Casey were the speakers advocating a Yes vote, with Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald and businessman Declan Ganley arguing for a No vote.

There were several heated exchanges between the speakers from each side on whether or not Ireland could access the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) in the event of a No vote. Both Mr Gilmore and Ms Casey argued that the ESM would be the only source of funding available to Ireland in the event of the State needing a second bailout, and that was only available if the referendum was passed.

Ms McDonald and Mr Ganley contended separately that the ESM would still be available to Ireland and that there was room to negotiate.

Mr Ganley said that Ireland could veto a change to Article 136 of the separate Treaty for the Functioning of the European Union, which would effectively prevent the ESM from coming into being. Mr Gilmore strongly disputed that this could materialise.

The Tánaiste opened the debate by claiming that No proponents were forwarding “fairytale solutions”. Both Mr Ganly and Ms McDonald argued that the final shape of the treaty might not be known until the summit of EU leaders in June, when the growth agenda advocated by new French president François Hollande will be discussed.

Ms Casey and Mr Gilmore argued that the treaty would not be changed but that the French might succeed in achieving a protocol in much the same way as Ireland did for the second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

The Tánaiste was put under pressure several times when defending the Government’s handling of the bank debt issue at EU level. When he argued that Ireland had achieved a reduction in interest rate, and a deferral of the payment in the promissory note in March, Mr Ganley taunted him with his own slogan: “It’s Frankfurt’s way or Labour’s way”.

“You failed, Tánaiste,” he said on several occasions.

But Mr Gilmore said that neither Sinn Féin nor Mr Ganley could put forward alternative solutions.

“If this country does not get back into the markets at the end of 2013 and we need emergency money to pay for hospitals, schools and welfare, the only source of that funding will be the ESM.

“If we reject the treaty we are heading into the unknown,” he said.

He said that the treaty and the ESM funding that would be guaranteed was the only source of stability.

Ms McDonald also claimed that the Tánaiste’s acknowledgement that there might be a need for a second bailout showed that “we are headed straight into bailout number two”. “The only fairy tale is that somehow by sucking additional billions of euro out of the economy you will get growth,” she said.

Ms Casey said the referendum was about common sense, about being calm and being diplomatic. She said that the ESM would give Ireland a cheap source of money that would not be available from any other source.