So, now we know. After months of trying to avoid a referendum on the austerity Treaty – the Fiscal Compact Treaty to the bureaucrats in Brussels – the Taoiseach and the Tanaiste slipped into the Dáil yesterday and told us that there would be a referendum.
This blog wasn’t surprised. Sinn Féin had sought our own legal advice. We were told that a referendum was needed. Had the government tried to avoid its responsibilities on this we would have been taking it to court.
It would have been nice to have had more notice about the announcement. The government was apparently told by the Attorney General at the Cabinet meeting that the treaty is a unique instrument outside the EU Treaty architecture and that on balance a referendum is needed to ratify it.
But instead of sharing that information with opposition leaders and setting aside an adequate period of time in the Dáil for this matter to be discussed they phoned around the offices of the opposition leaders shortly before the announcement was made in the chamber at 3pm. We were told that a statement was to be made but not what it would be about.
The government parties had set their faces against a referendum. Media reports out of the EU had confirmed that the government was trying to avoid a referendum and the Tánaiste, speaking at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs, had also admitted that the government negotiators were actively trying to weaken the text and to put in the words “preferably constitutional” in order to avoid the requirement that it be put to the people.
Having failed on this score the government wanted to make sure that it got its spin in first. Both Kenny and Gilmore had their well prepared scripts available and delivered to the media while opposition spokespersons were responding to the news in the Dáil chamber.
This is another example of the arrogant and discourteous manner in which opposition parties our treated by this government.
The Treaty is due to be signed in Brussels on Thursday. At the end of last November the government nailed its colours to this project and accepted that it was willing to hand over significant new powers to the European Court of Justice and European Commission.
The austerity treaty confers significant new powers on the European Commission and European Court of Justice to compel member states to alter their fiscal and budgetary policies or face significant fines.
This blog believes that the Treaty is anti-growth and anti-jobs and it will impose austerity policies on this state for years to come. This will be bad for those on low and middle incomes and disadvantaged communities. But it is in keeping with a government approach that supports cuts to public services and the privatisation of state assets.
Sinn Féin had consistently argued that there is a democratic imperative on the government to hold a referendum. That will now happen. The people will have their say.
The question is: will the government accept the outcome? Or given the experience with the Lisbon and Nice Treaties will the government refuse to accept a rejection of the Treaty and arrange the usual re-run? Will the government phrase the question in such a way so the people will be able to have an informed debate as opposed to bullying tactics that have been used in the past?
We know that Fianna Fáil will support this. Fianna Fáil and Labour and Fine Gael were all part of the cosy consensus for cuts and this government is dutifully implementing the economic policies of the last Fianna Fáil led government.
I think it is crucially important that the campaign be informed and informative, that the details of the Treaty and its implications for the people of this state and the island be fully discussed and debated.
Sinn Féin is against this Treaty. We have to wait to see the question that will be put. We’re against austerity. We don’t think it’s fair. We don’t think it’s right.
We don’t think it’s proper that working people have to pay for the greed and corruption and bad government that led to the economic crisis or the debts created by the golden circle, the big bankers and the bondholders and developers.
So let’s have a good debate. Let’s have an informed debate. And let’s secure a resounding rejection of austerity policies and the hardship they bring with them.