Enda Kenny should set aside his blind devotion to the EU and listen to his colleagues who acknowledge our future membership is not a given, writes Daniel McConnell Political Editor
ON Thursday afternoon in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil’s Dara Calleary made a devastating speech on Ireland’s relationship with Europe in the wake of Brexit.
He let fly at what he thinks of our so-called friends on the continent and how they view us.
“I firmly believe the European institutions walked away from us in our time of need. The commission, in its dealings with us and particularly in its dealings with Greece, in the way it rammed home an austerity programme which did not stand for anything in terms of cuts but re-engineered society, was wrong and removed from the principles of the European Union and its establishment, principles that hold today,” he said.
“The European Union cannot be allowed to exempt itself from criticism. I was struck all week in watching the response of the commission and the parliament to see that they were blaming Britain, politicians and everybody else, but they need to look at themselves, too, particularly in their engagement with this process in the coming weeks and months,” he added.
“We have to look into our own hearts and ask if there was a referendum on our membership of the European Union in the morning, how it would go. We cannot give a guarantee as we used to,” he said candidly.
A former junior finance minister in the Brian Cowen government during 2008 and 2011, Calleary saw first-hand how rough the treatment from the great and good in Europe can be.
He was present in key meetings on behalf of the then minister Brian Lenihan in 2010 when Europe, and in particular the ECB, bounced Ireland into the Troika bailout.
Calleary’s prescient comments cut to the core of where Ireland stands in a post-Brexit Europe.
His Mayo constituency rival is none other than Enda Kenny, our Taoiseach.
Kenny’s party Fine Gael is a long standing member of the European People’s Party grouping in Europe.
“The EPP is the centre-right, pro-European political party which gathers over 70 national parties from 40 countries,” is how it describes itself.
Most in Fine Gael have for decades signed up to a near- blind loyalty to the European project, sometimes bordering on devotion.
Kenny, now 65-years-old, has spent his entire political career speaking in favour of the European juggernaut and even with their shoddy treatment of Ireland since 2008, his loyalty remains intact.
Undoubtedly, Ireland is a better country today for being in Europe since 1973.
We are more outward looking, we are more progressive. We, thankfully, have shaken off the repressed victimhood that engulfed this country, largely thanks to the dominance of the Church.
Rights for women and children have improved significantly and Europe has also provided a welcome counter balance to the previously toxic relationship between Dublin and London, which existed for most of the Northern Troubles.
But Calleary’s points are justifiable in the context of Europe moving to become more than the original trading union envisaged in the wake of World War II.
A fully integrated political and financial union is not a concept that many Irish people are fully comfortable with.
Hence, the initial rejections of treaties Nice and Lisbon.
Also, the treatment of Ireland by Europe, as referred to by Calleary during the financial crash, did more damage to public confidence in our relationship with Europe than anything else.
Firstly, a refusal or inability by Europe to stand with Ireland on the night of September 29, 2008, meant it was the Irish Government and the Irish Government alone who had to contain the crisis.
Whatever the right or wrongs of the €440 billion bank Guarantee, Ireland had to act by itself.
But it did so with one arm tied behind its back.
While refusing to make available any European funds to save the Irish banks that night, Brian Lenihan had been warned a week before by Jean-Claude Trichet of the European Central Bank that no European bank could be allowed to fail.
“You must save your banks at all costs,” Lenihan said was the Trichet order.
So the Irish taxpayer footed a bill of €64bn because of that.
Fast forward to 2010, several attempts by the Irish government to limit its losses by burning bank bondholders were blocked by the ECB and Europe.
As reckless and inept as the Cowen government was, the most blatant hammering of little Ireland by our European friends was the bouncing of Ireland into the Troika bailout in November 2010.
A G7 meeting, pronouncements from Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, and briefings from anonymous ECB sources ultimately influenced the democratically elected Government of a sovereign nation into doing something it did not want to.
The big boys wanted Ireland contained by way of a Troika programme and we got eaten alive.
Again, after Enda Kenny had become Taoiseach in March 2011, and a new bailout of the banks was announced, Finance Minister Michael Noonan was minutes away from announcing a major burning of bondholders.
Initial agreement from the ECB and the IMF to proceed was withdrawn at the last minute and Noonan was forced to relent and amend his Dáil speech on the fly.
“An economic bomb would go off in Dublin,” was the warning from Trichet.
The net result, a higher bailout cost which you, I and every taxpayer will be paying for a very long time.
Now, in the wake of the Brexit result and a week of tumult on the markets and in political circles, focus is now shifting to what happens to us once Britain leaves.
Kenny was before the Oireachtas Finance Committee on Thursday and Brexit was top of the agenda.
At the committee, Kenny appeared to contradict previous comments by his chief whip, Regina Doherty, and MEP Brian Hayes, that Ireland would leave the EU, were we to lose control of our corporation tax rates.
Asked by Pearse Doherty if he agreed with his party colleagues, Kenny was clear: “Certainly not. We will not leave the European Union,” he said.
He added that tax policies remained in the control of national governments.
Hayes said such a move would be a red-line issue for Ireland. “That is the absolute red-line issue. Any attempt made to cajole us [on corporation tax], as far as I’m concerned, we’re out the door,” Hayes said.
So, while Mr Kenny is insisting that remaining in the EU is the best course for Ireland, Hayes and Calleary are correct to cast doubt on that.
Make no mistake, if they feel it is in their interest, France and Germany will not think twice and squash us like a bug, just like they did in 2008 and in 2010.
And with our closest neighbour now gone from the table, we stand more isolated than ever before. In a Europe that has become increasingly a club for the big boys, Ireland’s fate is now far less certain than before.
As the old saying goes, there may be trouble ahead.
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