No side is causing public confusion

THERE was a controversy recently where the promoters of a new movie took the quote of an Irish film critic and used it to promote the new release.

It was printed in large lettering on the sides of buses and on posters across the country.

It is standard practice, so why the controversy? Well, it turned out the critic hated the film, and the words used were lifted out of context and presented as a warm-hearted endorsement.

I was reminded of this episode last week when I debated on the airwaves with a Sinn Féin representative about the fiscal treaty. We were getting bogged down in a discussion about whether or not Ireland could access money from the new fund if we vote no on Thursday.

The presenter was frustrated and made the point that listeners were increasingly confused about what the treaty was about. He was right to be frustrated. How can there be a debate about the simplest and most fundamental point of this treaty — ie that we need to pass it in order to access the ESM fund in 2014 if we can’t get money from the markets?

Which is where the controversy about the movie review comes in. The simple truth is that the no side, and particularly Sinn Féin, have done what the movie promoters did — they’ve lifted a passage out of the treaty and presented it as meaning the opposite to what it actually means.

Sinn Féin say the ESM treaty confirms that countries in the eurozone will get access to the ESM fund if they need it... Which is true. But they leave out the rest of the sentence which makes it clear this access is subject to “strict conditionality”. And the condition? You’ve guessed it: Any country that wants access to the ESM needs to pass the treaty. It’s not scaremongering, it’s not exaggerating the effects of a no vote. It’s a simple, straightforward fact.

But the no side’s ability to misdirect, confuse, and complicate even this basic fact is part of the reason, I think, why we still see so many voters undecided about how they’re going to vote. The Irish people are fundamentally honest. When they see someone claim something as fact, they take it at face value. When they see the next person claiming the exact opposite as fact, they assume they’re also telling the truth and wonder what is going on.

Since the beginning of this campaign, I have made the case that the debate should be a rational and honest one. Those on the yes side should not overstate the benefits of a yes vote — passing this treaty is not going to fix all of our problems.

Similarly, the no side should not pretend the vote is about punishing the Government for breaking its promises or getting a better deal on our bank debt; if it was, I’d be voting no myself.

At its core, the treaty’s purpose is simple. It is about each member of the eurozone confirming to each other they are serious about getting their budgets under control. If we confirm we’re going to stick to our (already agreed) spending plans, we then have the option of accessing the emergency funding mechanism that has been set up for countries that are being charged too much for money on the market.

For some people, the treaty is of course about much more. For the Socialists, it is a chance to finally smash the “global capitalist system”. For Sinn Féin it is about Sinn Féin. They have never missed an opportunity to exploit people’s fears for their own gain. For Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party it is about using the Irish people to undermine the EU.

But the families I have spoken to have no interest in any of these things. For them, their decision on whether to vote for or against this treaty is about what is best for them and their children.

The easiest thing for the Fianna Fáil party to do would have been to respond to the cynicism of Fine Gael and Labour over the last few years by holding back and hoping that the people would give them a bloody nose in this referendum.

We have chosen the path we’ve taken because we take our responsibility to the citizens of this country seriously. We believe that political parties have a duty to tell the truth about what we believe is best for the country, even when it is politically uncomfortable for us to do so.

I believe if we want Ireland to remain a confident, positive, outward-looking republic, where we can look forward to our children having the opportunity to work and prosper at home, and engage with their international neighbours as equals, we need to vote yes.

* Micheál Martin is leader of Fianna Fáil


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