Dáil debates

Monday, 27 June 2016

United Kingdom Referendum on European Union Membership: Statements


3:45 pm

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Anti-Austerity Alliance) | Oireachtas source

Within hours of the announcement of the Brexit result, Sinn Féin's Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, issued a call for a Border poll, which was repeated by Deputies Adams and McDonald earlier in this debate. The Sinn Féin spokespersons are referring to a provision in the Good Friday Agreement whereby a poll on Irish unity can be called in Northern Ireland if there is reason to believe that it might pass. The Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Ms Theresa Villiers, has said "No", arguing there is no prospect of a poll producing a majority in favour of a united Ireland at this time. However, this is probably not the end of the matter. A new referendum on Scottish independence is likely to be held in the coming years in light of the majority vote in Scotland to stay in the EU. It is likely that this referendum will produce a vote for Scottish independence and will begin the break up of the UK.

In that situation a debate on the position of Northern Ireland within that union is likely to re-emerge.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance Deputies will oppose the demand for a Border poll.Whereas in Scotland the demand for a poll is a democratic demand, in the context of Northern Ireland, it is a demand for a contest which would inevitably deepen sectarian divisions among ordinary people. Does anyone really believe that a poll on a united Ireland would not polarise opinion in the North with one community drawn to a united Ireland poll and the other community drawn to a maintain the union poll? Does anyone seriously believe that this would be anything other than a passionately fought and severely heated contest which would serve to copperfasten, deepen and inflame the already existing sectarian divisions? Does anyone really believe that the result would be anything other than the result of a sectarian head count? There would be nothing progressive about such a process. Even if such a poll were to result in a majority for a united Ireland, which it would not, and Sinn Féin knows that it would not, does anyone believe that 800,000 Protestants could or should be coerced into a united Ireland against their will? That is a recipe for civil war, not for Irish unity. Neither a capitalist Northern Ireland nor a capitalist united Ireland, in or out of the European Union, can resolve the national question on this island. It is only a fight against austerity and the capitalist system which produces it that has the potential to unite the working people of this island, to establish agreed socialist structures and to gain the upper hand over both sectarianism and division.

In the after-shock of the Brexit vote the working class movement in this State should not accept one single job loss or one single cut to a single worker's pay packet because already working people are being lined up to be the whipping boys. Yesterday's edition of The Sunday Business Postreports that major exporters have already made contingency plans for job losses. The ESRI has predicted that wage cuts can now come onto the agenda. It has raised the possibility of wage cuts in the region of 4% to 5% for up to 60,000 workers. This morning's edition of The Irish Times, under the headline"Rules on public pay set to stay after vote", reports that the Government plans to ask the Dáil this week to renew the financial emergency legislation that was used to underpin cuts to public service pay and pensions after the crash, citing Brexit as a reason for doing so. The commentator, Matt Cooper in yesterday's edition of The Sunday Business Postraises the prospect of British employers, free of certain EU restrictions, trying to drive down minimum wage rights and drive down workers' right and then Irish employers attempting to follow their example.

The Anti-Austerity Alliance will oppose all these measures. We will use our voices and votes against the renewal of the financial emergency legislation and for the immediate reversal of public service pay and pension cuts. We call this afternoon on the trade union movement and on trade union activists to be fully alert to the dangers here for working people and to say loudly, clearly and with one voice that we will not accept job losses or pay cuts and that we will not be made the whipping boys for Brexit. The same applies across the water. The Conservative Party's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Osborne, MP, spoke in the course of the debate about the possibility of an emergency budget involving cuts in the event of a Brexit. I note he stated this morning that such a budget should be delayed until such time as Britain has a new Conservative Prime Minister but the trade union movement in Britain must be prepared to meet that challenge. The idea of a 24-hour general strike against such an emergency package would be entirely appropriate.

We have seen quite enough of little Englander politicians in the past while without having to also stomach little Irelander politicians. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae's comments reported in this morning edition of The Irish Times can only be described as depressing. He is reported as stating that immigrants bound for the UK will instead now come to Ireland. He predicts that wages will fall as a result. He also predicts there will be more pressure on housing, schools and other public facilities. He states, "I am worried about it. I can see no positive aspect. I am worried about every aspect". He concludes by stating that immigrants are of course welcome and then the next word is "but". Politicians who try to play the race card and tap into anti-immigrant sentiment might think that immigrants are fairly defenceless and might not be able to fight back. They might think they will not get any flack flying back in their direction, but that is not so. The Anti-Austerity Alliance will call out politicians of that kind every time this happens and we will do it here on the floor of the Dáil.

Only this morning the European Commission issued a statement on Ireland and the question of water charges. Fewer than four months ago the Irish people democratically elected a Dáil comprising a majority of Deputies pledged to opposing water charges. The response of the European Commission this morning was to state that it would be illegal for this House to represent the will of the people and abolish water charges. That is outrageous.

Ten days ago a special committee of this House issued a report with proposals on how to deal with this country's housing emergency. The report included a proposal that 50,000 publicly built houses be provided over the next four years. Leaving aside the fact that 50,000 is barely more than a third of the number on the State's social housing waiting lists and the fact that it would take 15 years to clear the list at the rate of house building proposed by the committee majority, the authors of that report could not even nail their colours to the mast and state that 50,000 houses would be and should be built by public funds. Why? It is because to do so would be to risk breaking EU fiscal rules, which prevent us from dealing with the housing emergency in a full-blooded way. Work begins soon on framing a budget for October. The EU fiscal rules, which prevent us from dealing fully with the housing emergency will be a barrier in terms of reversing cuts in health and social protection and ending financial emergency cuts to public service pay and pensions.

I wish to comment on Deputy McDonald's remark that she was alarmed that there were Deputies to her left in the House who felt that Brexit was good for the working class. I believe there are supporters of Sinn Féin who are, and I will be moderate in my language, surprised that it is arguing that the EU can be good for the working class. I accept the point that the Deputies have made, that they want to reform the European Union and see changes within it, but a massive social experiment was conducted just over a year ago to test the possibility of reforming and changing the EU. It took place in Greece where we had the election of the Syriza Government which wanted to combat austerity and to remain within the EU and reform it.

They got their answer loud and clear from the EU structures, which was that if they wished to remain within the EU they would implement austerity. So much for the prospects of reforming the European Union.

Fully reversing austerity measures in this State and elsewhere means breaking EU fiscal rules. Breaking EU fiscal rules means European Union fines and denial of voting rights on key EU bodies. It is only possible to break out of the prison of austerity by waging a struggle against capitalism and the EU rules and structures which underpin it. We need a socialist Ireland, a socialist Europe and instead of the European Union a socialist united states of Europe.


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