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Generation says Yes to Lisbon

Posted on: September 27th, 2009

There were just 10 days to go until Lisbon. And where was Taoiseach Brian Cowen?

Out in New York at a climate change conference. All the Cowen body language from the United Nations suggests that he was bored rigid listening to the green brigade.

Today there is less than one week to go until Lisbon. And where is European Affairs Minister Dick Roche? Off the prime-time airwaves, big into late-night programmes.

Good thinking by the handlers in Merrion Street. If the Government is to win the Lisbon vote they will need to keep their human liabilities buried in the background. If the ‘Yes’ campaigners can confine the Taoiseach to Tullamore and Dick to Bray or Brussels, they have a sporting chance of success.

Indeed if Fianna Fail were to abandon the campaign altogether, the pro-Lisbon forces would probably sail to victory.

Dick is still the most negative campaigner in the business. And the polls are beginning to show the benefits of keeping the referendum a Roche-free zone. As Dick fades in the people’s consciousness, the numbers favouring Lisbon creep up.

Dick is frothing at the mouth. His nemesis, Declan Ganley, recorded the shortest political retirement in Irish history. Declan retired forever in June. He is already back in September. Dick warned us that Declan would return. Now the bruiser from Bray is being deprived of his little obsession — Ganley-bashing.

Poor Dick’s manner of campaigning turns off thousands every time he is given a condescending media outing. Lisbon could still be lost if abrasive, political zealots — of all parties — insist on seizing the centre of the stage. They should keep out of the Lisbon debate. It is too important to be left to them.

The non-political classes are leading the ‘Yes’ campaign. Last week, I spoke to Bart Storan, the energetic campaign manager for Generation Yes, the committed group of young people with a genuine passion for Europe. The more politicians step aside for Generation Yes and guys like Bart with pro-Europe convictions, the better. These are not tired politicians, but the optimistic youth of Ireland, who believe in Europe. Turn to their website, www.generationyes.ie.

Or follow the ‘Ireland for Europe’ campaign directed by Pat Cox, former president of the European Parliament, an outfit that excludes all sitting politicians from its roll of patrons.

Two exceptions: it lists ex-Taoiseach Garret FitzGerald and of course Cox himself, once upon a time a Progressive Democrat TD.

Pat is favourite to succeed Charlie McCreevy in the commissioner’s job. Poor Dick fancies his chances for the gig as a reward for staying in the background, but Fianna Fail cannot afford to lose Dick’s Wicklow seat. So the people of Ireland will have to endure him for a good while yet.

Despite Dick and Brian, I shall be voting ‘Yes’ for Lisbon this time. Not just because I could not bear to vote on the same side as the interfering UKIP invaders, but because there are compelling reasons.

Besides, no-one should look at the company they are keeping next Friday. Otherwise we might all stay at home.

Not easy. Last year, I voted ‘No’. The hardest part was the knowledge that Sinn Fein followers, too, were putting their X in the ‘No’ box. This time it is knowing that the morons in IBEC, the bearded comrades in ICTU, the Irish Times and Dick Roche are in the same corner.

Grit your teeth. Forget your fellow travellers and vote ‘Yes’ this time.

Why? What is different from last time? Everything.

Last June, when we voted ‘No’, the economy was faltering, but was not yet hitting the rocks. Unemployment stood at 5.7 per cent (today it is 12.8 per cent); the budget deficit was at a controllable 2.75 per cent of GDP (today it is at a chaotic 10.75 per cent); and growth was at 0.5 per cent (today it is minus 8 per cent). While we were floundering in early 2008, we are drowning in late 2009.

Last year, the bankers were wounded, but protesting solvency. Today they are proven basket cases. The boys in Anglo were causing tremors but the system was supposedly secure.

Today we are exposed as bankrupt. And where is our lifeline? Ireland is being kept alive by the European Central Bank. That is the nasty truth.

The European Central Bank is funding about a quarter of our deficit. This is done by emergency measures introduced to keep the Irish banks and the economy afloat.

The ECB is not riding to the rescue out of love of Ireland. Its job is to protect the euro. If Ireland sinks, the currency is in danger.

Our euro membership has finally paid dividends. The other countries in the eurozone do not want to see us undermine their currency.

Indeed they have bailed us out in our darkest hour. Not only have they saved us from economic oblivion but they have loosened the stability and growth pact rules, especially for Ireland.

We have been allowed a derogation from fiscal disciplines, giving us until 2013 to bring our budget deficit back into line.

So what sort of suicidal maniacs would kick their European allies in the teeth at a time when the euro’s paramedics are pumping oxygen into a corpse?

If we vote ‘No’ to Lisbon our exasperated European partners may simply shrug their shoulders and leave us to our fate. Why should they save the sick man of Europe who shows such ingratitude?

We need Europe. We need friends. We need to be rescued.

Last year, many of us fretted that foreign investment would flee if a post-Lisbon Europe removed our right to insist on a 12.5 per cent corporation tax rate.

I still believe that the 12.5 per cent tax rate is an economic imperative for Ireland, but the danger has faded.

Our ‘No’ vote halted the French moves to harmonise tax in their tracks. This time we have won a protocol on tax granted as a direct result. More convincing still is the recent research carried out by fiercely independent consultants, Indecon.

They surveyed 66 economists, not the normal hired guns employed by vested interests, the banks or stockbrokers.

Indecon’s findings on foreign investment were startling.

Indecon found that 65.2 per cent of independent economists surveyed regarded Lisbon as a plus for foreign investors.

Only 2.9 per cent felt it would be a minus; 31.9 per cent say it would make no difference.

Indecon managing partner Alan Gray wrote that “a ‘No’ vote by Ireland could reinforce other concerns and would be likely to severely impact negatively on Ireland as an export platform for foreign investment”.

Indecon continue with even more compelling findings: a majority of independent economists believe that the nation’s cost of borrowing will rise if we reject Lisbon. More interest on borrowing means more taxes.

God knows, we are already about to be burdened by borrowing for at least one generation. If Lisbon reduces that burden, I am for it.

Last autumn, after the banking crisis, Ireland’s cost of borrowing rocketed on the money markets.

Everything changed on that fatal night of September 29, 2008.

Today we are a different country. A poorer country. A country in distress.

We need the Lisbon lifeline.