Commission chair: Treaty rejection means no access to ESM

Ireland will not be able to access the European stability mechanism if it fails to ratify the fiscal treaty, the chairman of the Referendum Commission has confirmed.

High Court judge Kevin Feeney said the preamble to the treaty stated clearly that “one of the sources of funding which Ireland is currently availing of will not be available” in the event of a no vote.

“In relation to other sources, the treaty is silent, and whether or not those sources are available is a matter for discussion and debate outside the ambit of this commission,” he added.

The commission is an independent body set up under law to explain the referendum as clearly as possible. It gives impartial information and does not advocate a yes or no vote.

Ireland’s existing bailout is being provided by the troika of the EU, ECB, and the IMF, along with bilateral loans from a small number of countries.

The ESM is the EU’s future bailout fund, and the treaty states that only those countries which ratify the document shall have access to the ESM.

The Government has argued that a yes vote would therefore work as an “insurance policy”, guaranteeing access to funds if required when Ireland’s existing bailout ends.

Campaigners advocating a no vote have argued that Europe would not cut Ireland off if it fails to ratify, and that the country could in any event get money elsewhere, such as the IMF.

Judge Feeney said the treaty was “clear” in stating that ratification was required for access to the ESM, and that the issue of other funds was not a matter for the commission.

No campaigners have also argued that the Government could use its veto at European level to block the ESM and send the EU back to the drawing board. But Judge Feeney said that opportunity was “gone” because the Government had decided not to exercise the veto.

“Ireland could have done that but Ireland has already agreed to the establishment of the ESM. The agreement has still to be ratified by the Dáil and the Senate.”

Judge Feeney said the treaty itself was about “strengthening the rules designed to make governments keep a balance between their income and their spending”.

These rules apply in three main areas: debt, general government def-icit, and structural deficit.

The commission said that under the treaty:

* The existing rule that government debt be no more than 60% of GDP is restated;

* The existing rule that the general government deficit must be no more than 3% of GDP is restated.

* A new rule that a country’s “structural deficit” be no more than 0.5% of GDP is introduced and must be put into national law.

The commission could not say when specific debt reduction rules laid out in the treaty would kick in should Ireland ratify, as it was “one of those questions which requires technical examination of a number of different documents”.

The commission will have a €2.2m budget for its work. Nationwide distribution of its guide to the referendum will begin on May 8. The commission will also advertise on television, radio, print, and online.

Twitter: High Court judges shouldn’t use it

By Paul O’Brien, Political Editor

High Court judges should avoid using Twitter, the chairman of the Referendum Commission has said.

In light-hearted comments, Kevin Feeney, himself a High Court judge, suggested many Twitter users were too quick to post their thoughts on the popular social networking site.

“I’m not a personal user of Twitter. High Court judges should stay well away from Twitter. The capacity to think before you actually say something appears at times not to be the main feature of people who operate on Twitter.”

Judge Feeney was speaking in his capacity as chair of the Referendum Commission, the neutral body tasked under law with providing impartial information about the fiscal treaty.

The commission will use Twitter to inform voters about the treaty, but Judge Feeney indicated that the body would be careful in its use of the medium.

“We have a Twitter site which will operate not maybe precisely as people are used to Twitter sites operating because we can’t shout back a response or the first response that might come into our heads — we have to deal with it in the manner consistent with our obligations.”

In addition to its website, the commission is also operating a Facebook page to encourage people to vote.

“We have a Facebook site designed to get people onto the register or to find out if they’re on the register, and that Facebook site is up and running,” Judge Feeney said.

* Twitter: @RefComm2012;

Website: referendum2012.ie;

Lo-call: 1890 270 970.


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