Noonan warns of 'dangerous leap' with No vote


MINISTER FOR Finance Michael Noonan has warned that a No vote in the fiscal treaty referendum would be a “dangerous leap that Irish citizens should not take”.

However, Sinn Féin disputed the Minister’s claims and challenged him to a debate on the issues.

Mr Noonan told the Bloomberg economic summit in Dublin yesterday that a Yes vote would send a very strong and positive message about Ireland’s ability to run its own affairs to the world and would add greatly to the confidence people had in the Irish economy.

He said this was in stark contrast to the world’s view of Greece and its ability to run its affairs.

Mr Noonan added that it might have been a good idea if Greece had had a referendum on its restructuring programme, as had been proposed some time ago.

“Maybe they should have a referendum now,” he said, adding that the vote should be on whether it wanted to stay in the euro, including the conditions that would apply.

Mr Noonan said all member states wanted Greece to stay in the euro and he believed Greece could stay in the currency if it sorted out its democratic position and committed itself to the restructuring programme through which it had received €180 billion of European taxpayers’ money.

He did not believe it was guaranteed that Greece would leave the euro and that the country’s problem was now a democratic crisis rather than an economic one.

Asked about the effect of the departure of Greece from the euro, he said Greece was very far from Ireland and there were few economic links.

For Irish people doing their weekly shopping, “apart from feta, what other Greek items do you put in the shopping basket?” Mr Noonan asked.

The Minister said the treaty “promotes good housekeeping”, and would prevent future governments from spending and borrowing excessively from future generations to finance “reckless and unsustainable” budgetary policies.

“These rules will ensure that never again will a government be able to increase current expenditure on the back of growth in unsustainable tax receipts from for example, property bubbles”, he added.

Responding to suggestions that the rules would lead to Ireland’s budgetary and fiscal policies being decided in Brussels or Berlin, he said the government of the day would still be “free to decide” what level of public services it wished for.

He also said he did not believe French president François Hollande would make a new push to have the Irish corporation tax rate changed.

He said the new president recognised he had to deal with the French deficit position as well as the need for growth.

The Minister said that if Ireland voted No, Europe would move on and we would be left with less than full membership of the euro zone.

He added, to laughter from the audience at the conference, that he did not want Ireland to be a pavilion member of the euro zone “where you are allowed to drink in the bar, but not play the course”.

Responding to Mr Noonan, Sinn Féin finance spokesman Pearse Doherty said the Minister was “very good at the soundbites” and not very long ago was talking about the economy “taking off like a rocket”.

Mr Doherty said Mr Noonan’s policies were making people’s lives worse. The Minister was trying to convince the Irish people that “his austerity programme” was working, but in reality it was not.

UK Independence Party MEP Nigel Farage joined the referendum campaign in Dublin yesterday arguing for a No vote. Encouraging people to reject the fiscal treaty, he said it would result in an unacceptable loss of sovereignty for Ireland.

Blair Horan of the Charter Group of trade unionists supporting a Yes vote said it was essential to back the treaty to keep the euro as a currency.

“Our economic collapse was entirely home-grown and the truth is that it is Europe that is helping us to find our way out of the mess that bad policy, bankers and developers created,” he said.

“In my lifetime, budget policy has failed two generations of young people and condemned them to mass emigration.”

Mr Horan said it was not true that the treaty would require more austerity and cuts of €5 billion to €6 billion quoted by some on the No side. “It requires balanced budgets in normal times and gives flexibility in recessions.”

Meanwhile a new opinion poll shows while the ‘Yes’ side is still ahead, those undecided hold the key to the outcome. In the Millward Brown Lansdowne poll for today’s Irish Independent, 37 per cent of voters say they will vote Yes, 24 per cent say they will vote No, 35 per cent remain undecided and 4 per cent say they won’t vote.