Questions we can't duck any more
Sunday January 04 2009
Every week day of this new year, 500 people will lose their jobs. It is a shocking thought. When the full reality of the horror we face dawns on us all, we will, no doubt, continue complaining about the lack of leadership from our politicians. But as a nation we must ask is it that we lack good leaders or is it that we are no longer prepared to be led? As the year passes one issue will loom large again, Lisbon.
Back then our five main political parties asked us to vote Yes. We did not follow their lead. We chose to go with the unknown Libertas and the very well-known Sinn Fein. That's the wonderful thing about democracy. It is the people who ultimately decide.
I am very proud of the fact that we are the only true democracy in Europe where we the people ultimately decide our future role within the EU. And I am delighted that we will have a say again because, regardless of which way you voted in the first Lisbon referendum, since then, your world, your country and your life have been turned upside down. We need to rerun this vote in light of our new circumstance so we all know where we are going.
I hugely respect the vote and the result of the Lisbon referendum. I have no great urge to change it but I do want to think it through again. To the majority who voted No, especially to those who took the time and the trouble to inform themselves of the issues and, after due consideration, voted against Lisbon, as a fellow citizen, I am pleading for your patience and understanding to allow our now deeply troubled nation to reconsider Lisbon. If we vote No again we will know we have fully considered all the issues, aware of our new economic circumstances, and that the majority of our fellow citizens have still decided against being full members of the EU.
But this time we need the broadcast media to improve their performance. The straitjacket of "balance" leads to endless argument and furious debate rather than insight and enlightenment. I need to find out if Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald has a serious alternative strategy for Ireland in a two-tier Europe. She is afforded the easiest of rides by the media who allow her to just sit there in the studio kicking the pro-Lisbon spokesperson in the shins. Why not give her an hour to explain her alternative proposals and how her two-tier Europe would work for us?
I am amazed at the transformation of Sinn Fein. I want to know how and why Sinn Fein has aligned itself with the British right wing types who are anti all-things Europe? Just look at Mary Lou's new best friends in Britain. Sinn Fein has moved from being Anti West Brit to being Pro Worst Brit.
I need to know in the two-tier Europe that Sinn Fein proposes, whether we going to stay with the euro or is Mary Lou saying,
"We are in real trouble here, we messed up, let's just throw our lot back in with the Brits, go sterling, take the oath and forget about Bobby Sands et al. It was all a mistake!"
And Declan Ganley? Surely there is one journalist out there who can reveal to me who he really is and what he is up to? I still have no idea who is funding Libertas, and that makes me uncomfortable and suspicious, perhaps with little cause. Contrast that with what we know about the party leaders on the other side of this debate.
Through the tribunals I knew everything about Bertie. In fact I have two versions of everything about him, his own version and a tribunal counsel's version. I know minute details, like how much he paid for the wallpaper in the sitting room of his house, which may not have been his house after all. I know Brian Cowen, Enda Kenny, Eamon Gilmore and John Gormley. Fascinatingly, because the general public couldn't remember the name of the new guy leading the PDs, they had to fold.
So if Declan Ganley is the leader of the No campaign, in fact the main man opposing all our elected political leaders, how come we know so little about him. He is the Dark Knight and the media have yet to reveal anything to us that the he doesn't want us to know. Declan just waves his light sword again and again, and says, "I have already fully answered those questions", and our media retreat.
It is speculated that a number of large US multinationals are on the brink of announcing thousands of redundancies with full plant closures or the beginnings of their pull-out from Ireland. If so, what a contrast in just 10 years. The peak of the US investment in Europe was 1999. Amazingly that year, at the all-time high of American inward investment in this continent, for every $100 they invested in the EU, $27 was invested in Ireland. It was phenomenal, a main driver of the Celtic Tiger.
We need to establish why these multinationals are really pulling out of Ireland. Is it the fallout from the credit crunch, have we over-priced ourselves or is there also an after-shock from the Lisbon rejection?
One senior American executive left me in no doubt that the Lisbon vote has had an impact. He says "it broke the Irish karma". By that he means that in the US there was always a perception (promoted and perpetuated by the IDA) that Ireland punched above its weight in the EU. He says, "Ten years ago Ireland was at the core of Europe. The little guy pulling the strings. Now you are on the outside with all those new east European countries. There is now no strategic reason for a US multinational to be in Ireland. Yes, you speak English but heck any of the new eastern European countries are as important as you guys now and they are all actually on the continent.'' He claims perception is reality. Whilst a number of countries rejected the Nice Treaty the perception this time is that Ireland alone is seen as blocking the proper integration of Europe. That's damaging Ireland's image.
The one thing we must avoid this time round is the type of arrogance that existed before -- "We are not going to have any multinationals telling us how to vote. It is none of their business". Actually, it is their business, and when they decide to relocate elsewhere we lose the jobs, we lose the tax revenues, we have to pick up the cost of all those dole payments and we now have the expense of importing those goods.
As 500 jobs a day go between now and October, when we will be asked to vote again on Lisbon, we need to have all made up our minds are we going with the now remaining four main political parties, or are we going to ignore our political leaders and throw our lot in with Sinn Fein and Libertas? Put another way, the Government parties and the main opposition parties rarely agree on a single issue but they do on this one. Do we choose to ignore them?
This is how my Parisian friend Pierre sees it. "You Irish love this system of buying rounds of drinks and we, the countries of Europe bought you round after round but when it was coming to your turn you said 'No'. You just wanted to buy a drink for yourself." I genuinely don't believe this to be true but it is damned hard to persuade pompous Pierre that we are really not mean. When I try to explain that the Irish thought they were trying to save Europe from itself, he scoffs.
A New Year's resolution for us all must be, that even though we have had our fill of Lisbon, we are going to give this crucial decision, in light of our new circumstances, the most serious consideration. Don't allow yourself to call it "Lisbon Two" which suggests it is nothing more than just a re-run of Lisbon because our hopeless political leaders didn't get their way. And of course that is, in the main, the situation.
This time, think about your job prospects and your children's careers and the tens of thousands who will have lost their jobs since the first referendum and think about this vote as a referendum on Ireland's future in Europe.
By the time we come to vote on Ireland's future in Europe ask yourself have your legitimate concerns been satisfied with the commitments that have been given by our EU partners on our Commissioner, on conscription and the other issues that clearly made a majority of us uncomfortable? We need to be realistic. Of course, Europe is not going to re-write the treaty for us but if we get written commitments and concessions we can ignore those who say "but that's not in the original treaty, minister".
If we negotiate an improved offer for Ireland, determine for yourself do those improvements outweigh your original reservations?
My final wish would be that the leaders of the four main political parties who now intend putting us through this all again must also make a real commitment. If they fail to win support for their Yes campaign a second time they must commit to resigning as leaders of each of their parties because twice they will have failed to win the support of the people. I believe if we forced them to give that commitment they would all make a real effort. Who knows? Brian Cowen might even read the treaty before October.
- Gavin Duffy