Wednesday, 23 May 2012
The Taoiseach will attend the informal summit of leaders from across Europe later today, at which it is imperative radical action is taken to restore confidence and growth across Europe. The situation today is graver than it has been at any time during the past three years. There is no more room for manoeuvre and delay. It is essential that Europe takes critical steps on three basic issues, namely, the sovereign debt crisis, which must be tackled by the establishment of a more secure and larger facility for the purchase of Government bonds; the financial crisis, by ensuring that banks are capitalised to a level which ensures their long term survival is unquestioned across Europe, including dealing with Irish bank and mortgage debt; and, the jobs crisis, by utilising the eurozone's enormous resources to deliver immediate job creating investment. Minimalist approaches are no longer acceptable. People in Ireland should and must vote "Yes" in the upcoming referendum because this will give us the most secure and cheapest access to the funding we need to retain public services and pay pensions in the years ahead. Europe is on a precipice and we must do nothing here to push it over the edge.
It is in that context that I believe we should take the debate to the people. Political leaders should be willing to engage in a national debate with those advocating a "Yes" vote and those advocating a "No" vote. Many voters remain undecided. Some polls suggest up to 30% of people are undecided. I believe a leaders' debate should be facilitated. We live in a democracy. I understand that invitations for such a debate have issued from RTE, the public service broadcaster which has a particular responsibility in this regard. TV3 attempted to organise a leaders' debate but leaders, with the exception of Deputy Joe Higgins and I, declined to participate. People expect leaders to engage. Will the Taoiseach confirm if, as indicated by a spokesperson yesterday, he has been invited by RTE to participate in a debate and what are his intentions in that regard?
I thank Deputy Martin for his public support, and that of his party, for a "Yes" vote on the referendum on the fiscal stability treaty. It is important there is no equivocation about this. It is of particular and fundamental concern for the future of our people and country.
This evening's informal meeting of European leaders is, I am glad to say, the realisation of the claims by quite a number of leaders for some time that Europe should focus on growth investment and job opportunities. It is important to note that this is a meeting of 27 leaders rather than of 25 leaders because growth affects all European Union countries. The opportunity and potential exists for the European Union to be the engine of trade in a global sense, to reduce the cost of business and to complete the Single Market. It also has potential in the digital area and to deal with the crisis issues in the eurozone in the context of the discussions on project bonds, eurobonds and other facilities to relieve pressure on sovereign Governments and to look at the broader spectrum of EU-US and EU-China trade relations. I expect leaders of the 27 countries will contribute to this evening's meeting on the growth agenda for the future. I am happy to participate in that debate from a national and European perspective.
I have no difficulty discussing the fiscal stability treaty. However, I turned down the invitation to appear on a particular programme for good reasons. RTE has invited me, as Taoiseach, to do a broadcast on Sunday following the Ard-Fheis contribution of the leader of Sinn Fein, Deputy Gerry Adams. However, I believe that to be predicated on how much time Deputy Adams devotes to the fiscal stability treaty issue on Saturday evening.
I am glad Deputy Martin raised the matter. Were I to cave in to the pressure that has been around for some days I would be elevating Deputy Adams to the position of Leader of the Opposition-----
-----which he is not. I have yet to hear Deputy Adams, as the leader of a political party, say he accepts the validity of the Irish Constitution, Bunreacht na hÉireann. I am a little sceptical about much of what I hear from that side of the House.
We will consider these matters.
I accept that today's meeting is extremely important. However, the debate here is equally important. I read in The Irish Times this morning that the Taoiseach's spokesman confirmed last night that the Taoiseach had received a request from RTE to participate in a leaders' debate.
The spokesman said the Taoiseach had received numerous requests. I asked the Taoiseach if he would confirm that he had received a request from RTE to participate in a debate. Fianna Fáil has inquired of RTE if there is to be a debate but has received no response in that regard. It is a fair question. I am not getting involved in any issue between the Taoiseach and Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin is holding its Ard-Fheis this weekend----
-----which I believe is the context of the invitation to the Taoiseach to do a broadcast. It is an unusual set of circumstances because normally political parties holding ard-fheiseanna are informed by RTE that if an Ard-Fheis takes place six weeks in advance of any general election there will be no coverage of it.
That would normally be the case but this is a change of tack in regard to how Sinn Féin is being treated. The Taoiseach has been invited but that is not really my point. That is for another day and other parties will also have issues about it in the fullness of time.
What I am trying to get at here is the need for a genuine political debate between the political leaders on both sides who are advocating positions on the treaty. It is the fairest way to resolve any claims or counter-claims about lack of balance in how particular parties are treated or in terms of the campaign. More important, we should have the confidence in our position to be able to go on national television and debate the issues. People do not understand a reluctance to become involved.
We need to reflect on this in the House in a general sense. Leaving the referendum and the treaty question aside for the moment, we need to look at what is happening in regard to referenda in general. Referenda are matters for the people to make decisions on; they are not about giving profiles to individual politicians. Irrespective of the public response in its votes for the different parties, that situation is never reflected in the case of a referendum. I have been through perhaps 22 of the Twenty-six Counties debating this publicly, in village halls, town halls and on the streets-----
-----and, indeed, meeting the professional dustbin bashers brigade in various locations around the country. Peaceful protest is perfectly legitimate in this country. I have no fear at all of dealing with public debate on this issue. However, I am not sure we should turn this into a crisis situation, offering more advantage for, shall we say, minority party views.
When the Deputy speaks of balancing the debate, if that were to be the case, I consider that I, the Tánaiste and the Deputy's good self would be more than a match for Deputy Adams. He would regard that as being very unbalanced, I am quite sure.
I also welcome the Taoiseach's newfound conversion to the growth and jobs agenda. When he came back to the Dáil on 14 December to report on the austerity treaty, he never once mentioned in his statement jobs or growth. He waxed lyrical and promoted the treaty around its budgetary discipline, reinforced budgetary rules for countries but there was no word about getting people off the dole and back to work. That is in spite of advice from Sinn Féin. He settled for much less that anybody else and now he is trying to play catch-up.
Is léir go dtugann an Taoiseach tacaíocht dos na beartais céanna a bhfuil teipthe orthu ar fud na hEorpa agus anseo in Éirinn.
Will the Taoiseach stand aside from these EU summits where he is very clearly out of his depth? Why does he not send Jedward to represent us? They might at least stand up for Ireland's interests.
Given that he believes in savage cuts and given his failure to put money into jobs investment and have direct Government-led investment, instead putting money into banks, that is very bad economics. That is why he supports the austerity treaty. His is a party of austerity.
In terms of the debate, or the Taoiseach's failure to take part in one, does he not think it is very bizarre that, as Taoiseach, he will be allocated some time, proportionate to what I might say on this treaty at the Ard-Fheis?
He will then trot out and say his little bit and try to persuade people to say "Yes" to austerity, when people are sensible and will say "No" to it. The Taoiseach should remember it is a very good thing to say "No" to something that is not good for oneself, one's family, one's community, one's state or one's country.
Would it not be more leaderly, for the Taoiseach, to come into a television studio and inform people, leaving his policies open to scrutiny by others and have a genuine informed debate, as opposed to the hecklefest he has in the Chamber? He could argue these points so that people can take an informed decision on 31 May? I certainly hope that people will vote "No".
"Yes" to opportunities where Government can make decisions about having access to finance being made available for small and medium enterprises and small business to create jobs for our young people at home.
These are the positive reasons.
The Deputy, his representatives before him, his party outside, have come into this Chamber but they have never once supported any European Union treaty or any European measure. All he wants to do is to create publicity and garner support through protest. That is perfectly legitimate in this country. However, he has never supported a European Union issue.
In fact, I had to drag out of him words of credit for a multinational that decided to put 1,000 jobs into his own town of Dundalk. It took the Deputy a long time to come round to recognising that people who are his constituents will have jobs in that plant.
This treaty, for from being about austerity, is about bringing stability, confidence, investment, growth and opportunity.
He always gets the last word during these brief Dáil exchanges. The people should get full information on all the issues pertaining to this treaty. The European Stability Mechanism is one of the central issues he has raised as an argument for supporting the treaty. He should take this opportunity to tell the people of this country the truth about the ESM. Will he admit the reality that we will be liable to pay up to €11 billion if we sign up to the ESM? That is what our liability will amount to.
After putting billions of euro into bailing out Irish banks, we will end up bailing out Spanish banks and other European banks. Where will we get the €11 billion from? That money is in addition to the €8 billion in cuts under the troika programme over the next three years, the €5 billion in cuts that are required to meet the deficit targets under the fiscal treaty and the billions in interest repayments on a debt that will be €200 billion by the time we exit the programme.
Will the Taoiseach admit that even if we pass the fiscal treaty, there is no guarantee that we will get money from the ESM? If the Spanish banks require recapitalisation, there might not be enough money in the ESM to provide assistance to this State if it requires it.
The last word always rests with the people. The people own this referendum. The independent Referendum Commission, chaired by Mr. Justice Feeney, is absolutely above reproach. It has been entirely objective, truthful and accurate in its comments to every citizen who has asked it a question about this treaty. The commission has made the point quite clearly that as the law has been passed, this referendum is the people's property. The people will have the last word. The chairman of the independent commission pointed out quite clearly on page 9 of the guide to the stability treaty that "the granting of financial assistance in the framework of new programmes under the European Stability Mechanism will be conditional, as of 1 March 2013, on the ratification of this Treaty by the Contracting Party ". Mr. Justice Feeney has confirmed that is the case. In other words, countries that ratify the treaty will have access to the European Stability Mechanism. Our contribution to the ESM is €1.2 billion. We contribute less than 2% of it. We have a place on the board. We have a say in how that money will actually be spent.
It is clear that the analysis of the Spanish banks which is to be carried out will bring factual evidence of what the situation there is. The Spanish Prime Minister, Mr. Rajoy, has been speaking about this. The ESM is the permanent bailout facility for the European countries. As the House is aware, it can be used where required for the payment of salaries and pensions and for the running of a country's services. I am not suggesting that it will be required. It is our intention to emerge from the programme as quickly as possible. In order for us to do that, clearly we have to acquire the confidence of the markets. We will not acquire the confidence of the markets, which are without sentiment or sympathy, by voting "No". A "Yes" vote here will guarantee access to the ESM if it is ever required. It will guarantee a continuation of the line of investment and confidence in this country for job creation. It will allow us to put our own regulations in place to ensure every future Government, like every Government across the entire eurozone, will have responsible budgeting and will not return to what we had in the past. I hope Deputy Boyd Barrett can understand what I am saying.
The treaty also states that "if indispensable to safeguard the financial stability of the euro area as a whole and of its Member States", then "the ESM may therefore provide stability support". If it "may" provide it, then it follows that it may not.
The treaty also provides that "in the interest of the ESM, the Chairperson of the Board of Governors, Governors, alternate Governors, Directors, alternate Directors, as well as the Managing Director-----
As a subsidiary of Sinn Féin on this matter, Deputy Boyd Barrett is promoting the cause of the "No" side. It should be borne in mind that the Deputy and his group have been talking about sending the EU and the IMF home with their moneys. They then said the ESM should be vetoed.
It will be the subject of a full discussion in this House. The Deputy can contribute in his own way to that discussion. As I have said, Ireland contributes €1.2 billion to this mechanism, or less than 2% of the total. We are represented on the board.
It is available for use for any country that might have a requirement to draw from it, a fact that has been confirmed in this fiscal stability treaty debate by the chairman of the independent Referendum Commission, who, as I said, is absolutely above reproach in this matter.
Deputy Boyd Barrett does not accept his word, neither does Deputy Adams. He puts forward these falsehoods all over this country, on posters in his name, which he knows are hypocritical and untruthful, to say the least.