Unions to decide own stance on European fiscal treaty


SOME OF the country’s largest public service unions will consider their positions on the fiscal treaty over the coming days following the decision by the trade union movement collectively not to make any recommendation on the forthcoming referendum.

The executive of Impact is expected to discuss the issue at a meeting today. The union representing lower-paid civil servants, the CPSU, will debate a motion at its annual conference tomorrow calling for a No vote. Three unions, Unite, Mandate and the TEEU have already urged members to reject the treaty.

General secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions David Begg said it had not been possible to reach a unanimous or even a majority position on its executive council yesterday on the treaty – although a vote was not held.

He said the union movement was “damned if we do and damned if we don’t” in relation to the treaty. Mr Begg said no one in trade union ranks was in agreement with the treaty. It stood for a view of the world that was “completely inimical to our interests and our particular analysis on what is wrong in Europe at the moment”.

However, he said the problem for the unions was the document also connected acceptance of the fiscal treaty with access to the European Stability Mechanism (ESM). He said the great problem for Ireland was that if it arrived at the end of next year and was unable to return to the capital markets it would have to go elsewhere for funds. At that stage the prohibition in the treaty regarding access to the ESM would potentially cause great difficulty. He said the consequences of such a development would be very difficult to manage at a national level.

“If we were not in a position to have to potentially access the ESM, it would be a clear-cut decision for us as it is for our colleagues around Europe. We are absolutely unique in having to deal with a situation where we have a referendum and where we are part of a programme with the troika. Nobody else is in that situation.”

Employers’ body Ibec said a Yes vote was needed to keep economic recovery on track. It agreed with unions that more needed to be done to support growth, but this was not a reason to reject the treaty. It said stronger fiscal rules were needed to get debt under control as well as a clear growth strategy to avoid additional austerity.

Director of policy Brendan Butler said: “Irish business can deliver the growth needed to get the economy back on track, but business will only invest and create jobs if there is economic stability and confidence in the future.

“A Yes vote will provide a platform for investment, growth and recovery. It is not the solution to all our current difficulties, but it is part of the solution. A No vote would be a dangerous step into the unknown that would only add to our economic difficulties.”

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is to circulate a “synthesis paper” drawn up by Mr Begg to affiliated unions. “The decision of the meeting was the synthesis paper would be used as a guide for affiliated unions to answer the questions that members might have in relation to the treaty. But it would not be marketed by us as either a rejection of the treaty or an endorsement of it,” he said.

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said yesterday that two of the three unions urging a No vote had opposed every European treaty.

“We have to engage with the people of Ireland, this is not a trade union matter, not an employer matter, it’s a matter for the people of Ireland to make one of the most important decisions that we will make in some time.

“That is to ensure we are part of the core of Europe, that we have the backstop of money to ensure we can get back to the markets and have an insurance policy if you like, of access to the ESM.”