EU treaty vote - Alternative is even less attractive

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn was derided at Easter when he suggested that the depth of the economic crisis had not yet been understood by some people in the education sector.

Last week’s declaration from Siptu president Jack O’Connor that his union would only recommend the EU fiscal compact treaty to its members if the Government tried, through a new stimulus package, to persuade private-sector pension funds to invest in the domestic economy, suggests that the only thing wrong with Mr Quinn’s remarks were that they might have been too narrowly focussed.

Most private pension funds — and a great number of semi-state ones too face huge deficits, nearly €2bn at the renamed ESB alone — and would be reluctant, or just plain foolish, to consider anything as high-risk as job creation packages in this stagnating economy.

That may not make pleasant reading on a blustery Monday morning but it is a chastening, hard-nosed reality. It is especially so for many fund mangers, no matter how patriotic, already trying to replicate the miracle of the loaves and fishes as they try to meet even a percentage of the benefits tens of thousands of workers have already paid for and expect when they eventually retire. Most will be disappointed.

Over the weekend Siptu’s position was gazumped when the Mandate trade union said it would urge its members to vote no and that they should involve themselves in the campaign for a no vote. This position was reached at a delegate conference without the benefit a union-wide vote might, or might not, confer.

Mr O’Connor did, thankfully, recognise that: “Ireland is between a rock and a hard place. The treaty imposes, what we believe, to be an unnecessarily severe ‘debt brake’.” This reality was again acknowledged over the weekend when Irish Congress of Trade Unions boss David Begg said there is a gun at our head and we may have to endorse the treaty despite misgivings.

This seems a reasonable if reluctant analysis of our difficulties and probably reflects the position of some of the 30% of voters who say they will vote for the treaty on May 31. It may also influence the position eventually adopted by a good number of the 39% who last week declared themselves undecided.

Those who have already declared their opposition have yet to suggest how the State might fund itself should we exclude ourselves from even the possibility of a second bailout. Neither have they shown how we might survive outside the euro or even in a second tier eurozone. Neither have they shown the slightest inkling that they understand how international political power works and how utterly irrelevant we might make ourselves in Brussels if we decide to reject the deal.

Unfortunately, those who advocate a yes vote have staggered from one calamity to another in recent weeks. The Government has redefined what it means to have egg on one’s face with the water and household charges fiascos. If the same level of vaudeville is brought to bear in the few weeks leading to the referendum, then the naysayers have it all to play for. If the vote is lost it will mark the opening of the closing act for this Government and the domestic and European consequences do not look even vaguely attractive. Ictu and Siptu have, albeit understandably reluctantly, reached a position that is hard to argue with.

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