With the Irish referendum to ratify the European Stability Treaty looming on May 31st, recent opinion polls suggest that up to one third of Irish voters are still undecided. The Irish Independent-Millward Brown Lansdowne poll found, however, that 37 per cent of voters currently intend to vote ‘Yes’, while 24 per cent intend to vote ‘No’. When statistically adjusted to include undecided voters, last Thursday’s poll suggests that a majority of 60 per cent of voters could vote ‘Yes’.
The governing coalition parties of Fine Gael and Labour are joined by major opposition party Fianna Fáil in calling for a Yes vote, while parties from across the left wing, including Sinn Féin, oppose the Stability Treaty.
Debate on the treaty in Ireland in recent weeks has centred on the key issue of whether Irish economic recovery is best served by the substantial cuts and restructuring a Yes vote would bring, or whether a No vote would lead to Ireland being ostracised within Europe. The Yes campaign is regularly accused of using scaremongering tactics to ensure a positive vote, while some commentators have said that the No campaign cannot guarantee what will happen if Ireland should reject the treaty.
Socialist Party MEP Mr Paul Murphy accused the Irish government of misleading voters: “The consistent use of this threat of losing access to a second ‘bailout’ by the ‘Yes’ side in this referendum has been a tacit admission that a second bailout will be needed. Most economists now agree that Ireland will need to access a second bailout.
“It must be acknowledged that this represents a total failure of the approach that has been pursued so far. All of the hardship that has been imposed on people has been justified with the promise that a second bailout would be avoided. Now it is crystal clear – austerity has failed. It has destroyed the economy, with a return to recession in Ireland as a result.
“Although the government is lying when it says that Ireland could not access funding in the event of a No vote, we must be clear that a second bailout from any of the institutions – ESM, EFSF or IMF – would not be pretty. Therefore, the challenge is to avoid a second bailout.
“Austerity policies are leading us back to a second bailout,” said Mr Murphy.
Dublin Labour MEP Emer Costello, however, has said that the Stability Treaty is a renewed commitment to best practices that Ireland adhered to in the nineties but lost sight of during the noughties – the Celtic Tiger boom years.
According to Ms Costello, “‘Balancing the books’ is not an end in itself but a means to an end … it is the basis for creating sustainable prosperity and for achieving a more equal society.”
Ms Costello said that the Stability Treaty is not altogether different from EU treaties Irish voters, however reluctantly, have supported in the past. “What is new though is the stronger emphasis on the enforcement of all the rules through national laws,” she said. “In essence, the sound management of public finances would no longer be just a commitment under EU rules but a requirement under national laws. To safeguard the euro and to ensure that it works for all its members, we are all being asked to enforce the rules better. That is what the Stability Treaty is about, not ‘permanent austerity’.”
The Campaign Against Household & Water Taxes (CAHWT) national conference recently voted to make a call to its supporters for a ‘No’ vote in the Fiscal Treaty Referendum, and to call on all branches to campaign for this.
According to a press release, the CAHWT conference overwhelmingly endorsed motions calling for their campaign to be very active against the Treaty, and to make an appeal to vote ‘No’ to households who defied the government deadline for non-registration of the home tax.
Campaign spokesperson Ruth Coppinger said: “The CAHWT is currently the most active grassroots campaign in the country, and also intends to get involved in the campaign with, hopefully, a decisive impact.”
With the treaty vote now just a week away, influential business leaders and farming groups have rowed in behind the government in urging voters to vote in the treaty’s favour.
At the recent British Irish Parliamentary assembly in Dublin, the heads of industrial manufacturer Glen Dimplex and pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline joined the chairman of food manufacturer Greencore in calling for a ‘Yes’ vote.
Fine Gael Director of Elections and Minister for Agriculture, Simon Coveney, recently welcomed the strong support from major farming organisations for a Yes vote on the Stability Treaty.
“I welcome the fact that all of the major farming organisations – including the IFA, Macra, the ICMSA and now the ICSA – are calling for a Yes vote on the Stability Treaty. Farmers know that we need to send a message of stability to our international trading partners,” said Mr Coveney.
“Ireland is an export-driven country, and no one knows this better than farmers. A Yes vote will help send a major signal of reassurance to investors and growing markets,” he said.
An Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA) statement called for a Yes vote to secure access to markets, ensure exchange rate stability, ensure relatively low rates of interest, and to attract foreign direct investment to Ireland.