Let’s not be afraid to veto sinister deals

OUR unwavering penchant for high dudgeon has been satisfied in recent weeks, partially at least, by the widening allegations around Nama’s adventures in Northern Ireland.

Public outrage, manufactured or otherwise, and political opportunism make a public inquiry seem at least probable.

Before it became impossible to ignore the whiff around Project Eagle, our permanent chorus of discontent focussed on Irish Water, water charges, and the frightening administrative and political ineptitude shown during that project’s earliest days. That sorry saga facilitated, and facilitates, the kind of ideological fluidity that has done so much to discredit Ireland’s body politic and undermine faith in our democracy.

This public anger seems disinterested in the hard, expensive lessons of history — even the most effective public inquiries usually fail to bring anyone to book, much less usher them to the seats reserved for defendants in a courtroom. The cross-border nature of any Nama inquiry makes that novel idea even more remote. And, no matter what anyone says, we’ll have to eventually pay for water one way or another. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde: We have established the need, now all we need to do is to agree how it’s paid for.

Tragically, and very dangerously, these domestic skirmishes have distracted us from far more important issues; one in particular. While water protesters marched in our towns and cities protesting over modest domestic charges, our German and French cousins marched to confront looming Goliaths — the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TIPP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) being negotiated between the European Union and Canada.

Both trade deals have the capacity to change our society in the most profound ways and to usurp our democratically elected Government. They are quite simply a real and present threat to our sovereignty and the hierarchy of rights we have established to protect individuals, employees, employers, and consumers. They tip the balance of power so far in favour of investors and capital that the social structures that sustain Europe — an entity loosely defined by Christian Democrats’ or Democratic Socialists’ values — would be made all-but redundant.

An indication of how powerful the trade deal obligations might be is that if we had waited until they were finalised — if they ever are — to introduce legislation banning smoking in the workplace, tobacco giants might have blocked that admirable initiative through the courts, or at least won spectacular damages against Ireland Inc. Something similar has already happened in Australia around efforts to standardise cigarette packaging. How can that kind of shadow government, that kind of privateering be allowed to stand?

In a country like this, where we are dependent on foreign investment and capital, the jobs and opportunities those very welcome enterprises support, some of the proposals in these trans-Atlantic deals should set alarm bells ringing very loudly. Agriculture, already struggling to cope with the consequences of over-supply, should be very worried as either deal will allow more food produced under very different cost and production structures into European markets.

The negotiating process was conducted behind an almost impenetrable, sinister veil of secrecy that it seems recklessly naive not to be concerned — we simply cannot buy a pig in a poke. Earlier this week, Washington and Brussels scrambled to kick-start stalled TTIP negotiations. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker was in Paris on Tuesday to sell the world’s biggest trade deal to one of the toughest constituencies in Europe — a convention of France’s mayors. Naturally, he reassured them that the pact would not undermine their interests. Our Government has ignored any principle of transparency on these deals — that, of course, assumes they were privy to the negotiations — to the point that their silence could be described as almost anti-democratic. The EU, if it finalises either deal, will exacerbate the democratic deficit undermining the entire European project.

The Apple tax ruling pointed to one of the battle-lines between international corporations and national governments. Make no mistake about it, these deals are far more than battle lines. If ratified, they would be a huge victory for those whose objectives are inimical to the respect and protections we offer each other. It is time we put our natural capacity for high dudgeon at the service of a worthy cause. Opposing these deals until they are subject to thorough public scrutiny and parliamentary oversight is certainly such a cause.


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