The Irish government was elected in February 2011 on a wave of popular discontent with the way in which the Irish economy was being managed in favour of banks. Now it now wishes to pass into law a treaty to allow a body outside Ireland, one which is not accountable to the Irish people, to control all Irish revenue and expenditure...
On 31 May Ireland, alone among its European partners, goes to the polls in a referendum on the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) Treaty and the Fiscal Compact Treaty. These treaties are the latest EU attempt to shore up the euro following the collapse of the Greek and Irish economies, providing a means to bail out any other EU state in trouble while tightening EU control over the economy of member states.
The treaties were, of course, designed in such a way as to avoid the use of the term treaty, thus avoiding the troublesome and messy business of putting them to the people of Europe in a series of referenda. In this respect the Irish government, a Fine Gael/Irish Labour Party coalition, was no different from the other EU governments and had hoped to avoid a referendum as well, but in the end had to bow to the overwhelming desire of the Irish people to have their say and to the advice of their own Attorney General.
It is easy to understand why it adopted this position. Having already been clobbered by the EU in order to bail out their own failed banks, it saw two treaties set up to clobber Ireland again – this time to bail out the failed banks of Italy, Spain or any other EU nation that falls victim to their greed and incompetence. Needless to say the government and all the main opposition parties are campaigning relentlessly for a Yes vote.
If they were to succeed in this then they will be handing over to the EU what little remains of an Irish sovereignty that has been steadily eroding since Ireland’s accession to the EU in 1973. The impacts of the ESM are quite staggering for Ireland. It will have the power to call on Ireland to make a contribution to the Agency (not even the EU itself) of up to 11 billion euros – a sum equivalent to one third of all Irish government tax revenues in 2011. This vast amount can be raised by the ESM at its sole discretion at any time in the future.
There is no limit on the sums that can be sought from members of the ESM. And as if this were not enough it has also been given wide-ranging immunities in the exercise of its powers so that, in effect, it is outside the scrutiny of the governments of the states who sign up to it.
A government which was only elected in February 2011 on a wave of popular discontent with the way in which the Irish economy was being managed in favour of banks and other financial institutions, now wishes to pass into law a treaty which would actually allow a body outside Ireland, one which is not accountable to the Irish people, to control Irish revenue and expenditure.
The ESM will be able to order Ireland to raise sovereign debt and then hand it over to a body which will then decide where, when, whether and how to use it. Once the debt is handed over, the Irish government will have no claim to it or any say whatsoever in how to use it. Astonishing – vote Yes and wave the resources of the country away.
But at this stage in the referendum campaign, it is clear that the Irish government has a fight on its hands to secure a Yes vote, and current indications are that the referendum will be lost. But what then? What if the Irish people do vote to reject the treaty? Will that be the end of the matter? Will the EU technocrats say, “fair enough – we tried but in true democratic fashion the Irish people have spoken and said No. We must respect this and look at alternatives.” Of course not – Ireland has been here before and has learnt the hard way that saying No is not the correct response, and leads to the EU forcing another referendum upon them until the answer is Yes.
This happened when the Irish, anxious about the seemingly interminable loss of their sovereignty, rejected the Treaty of Nice in 2001 and the Treaty of Lisbon in 2008. Impervious to any sort of democratic restraint, the EU launched a sustained campaign of lies, threats and bribery to secure a Yes vote in a repeat referendum.
Far from respecting Ireland’s decision, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson and European Commission President Romano Prodi said in response to the rejection of the Treaty of Nice in 2001, “The Member States and the Commission will pursue the enlargement negotiations with undiminished vigour and determination in line with our firm commitment given to the applicant countries.” In other words, to hell with what the Irish or anybody else want. This is going to happen because we say it is going to happen. So much for democracy, so much for the myth of independence and sovereignty.
Unless the Irish working class learn from this and consider carefully the logic of rejection – that the real problem is not actually membership of the ESM but membership of the European Union itself – then the same thing will happen again whenever Ireland dares to vote No. For in a very real sense Ireland’s current financial distress has been caused by membership of the European Union and subsequent adoption of the euro as its currency. The terms of the debate are even the same. According to the Irish government, Ireland must vote Yes. In the words of Joan Burton, an Irish Labour member of the government and Minister for Social Protection (An tAire Coimirce Sóisialaí), “saying Yes to the stability treaty is vital for a stable currency and for investor confidence.”
But who are these investors, these fairy godmothers, riding to Ireland’s rescue without a care in the world and without a thought for their own wellbeing? They are exactly the same investors, the same financiers whose reckless investment in crooked property deals and nothing else led to the EU-directed Bank Guarantee that bankrupted the country in 2008. The ESM will simply provide them with another opportunity to enrich themselves on the backs of the further impoverishment of the Irish working class. As Marx says in the Communist Manifesto:
“Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguishes the Bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All old established national industries have been destroyed or are clearly being destroyed.”
This then is what the European Union is all about. Forget about social justice, forget about maintaining the peace in Europe, the European Union is designed to support this bourgeois class, in our day financial capitalists, by forcing member countries to abandon their own historically conditioned social contract between capital and labour, always, always to the benefit of capital. Because in Ireland one thing is certain: these so-called investors so courted by the Irish government, no matter how confident they become, will never invest in things – industry, education, social welfare – that will actually benefit the Irish working class rather than their own short-term interest to make as much money as they can and then get out when the going is good. Why would they? They, at least, know what side they are on.
A vote in favour of the ESM will simply institutionalise austerity in Ireland for generations to come, will not create a single job, will lock down Irish economic activity at its current low level by shredding demand, create mass unemployment, impoverish Ireland and drive away its main resource – its working class. If Ireland says No on 31 May they must not allow themselves to be browbeaten again but continue to say No, No to the ESM, No to a Banker’s State, No to the EU.
For over 800 years the Irish people have defined themselves in terms of resistance to oppression. They have fought for the right to determine their own future, in their own land and for the right for those who produce the wealth of the country to control how that wealth is used.
Not over yet
This fight is not over yet. One master has simply been replaced by another. As James Connolly puts it in Labour in Irish History:
“As we have again and again pointed out, the Irish question is a social question, the whole age long fight of the Irish people against their oppressors resolves itself, in the last analysis into a fight for the means of life, the sources of production in Ireland. Who would own and control these? The people or the invaders; and if the invaders, which set of them – the most recent swarm of land thieves, or the sons of the thieves of a former generation?”
Call them what you like, the thieves and sons of thieves are still with us, still dictating how Ireland’s wealth is owned and controlled. The main enemy for Ireland’s working class and for all the working class of Europe is the European Union. Workers of all countries must unite to destroy it. The Irish working class can make a start by saying No on 31 May and continuing to say No. Enough is enough. ■