Amid outrage over the government’s intensive efforts to avoid a referendum, the leader of the main opposition groups in the 26 Counties have issued separate calls for the people to have a say on Europe’s draconian new finance plan.
The objective of the pact, agreed by politicians in Brussels this week, is to reinforce the single euro currency by drastically toughening budget rules across Europe with a multi-decade austerity plan. An enforcement mechanism, involving sanctions, fines and legal action on the governments of EU member states, will operate through the European Court of Justice to ensure full compliance.
It is estimated that, under the Treaty, current and future 26-County governments will be required to pay up to 13 billion euro a year -- more than is currently collected by the state in income tax -- to pay down the national debt over the course of the next twenty years or more. A failure to do so would lead to an unprecedented direct enforcement by Brussels and a regime of increased cuts, taxes and charges.
Despite its focus on economic matters, the fiscal compact also continues the process of committing individual member states to participate in a federal European superstate. The possibility of an EU-appointed ‘Haushaltskommissar’ (Budget Commissioner) being sent to European capitals, with powers to override the national government’s budget policy, was the subject of intense discussions, but was ultimately not referred to in the Treaty.
The Czech Republic joined Britain in staying outside the pact, but the 25 other EU member states, including the Dublin administration, agreed to sign up.
European leaders were focussed on the situation Greece, where the Athens government is seeking write-downs of more than 80% of the nation’s sovereign debt. German officials, with the support of the French, are continuing to demand that a Haushaltskommissar immediately take control of the Greek national budget, despite the strong opposition of the Athens government.
Amid doubts that the severe budget adjustment required by the fiscal compact can be achieved in Ireland, it has also been reported that a Haushaltskommissar could yet be appointed to Dublin to enforce an austerity plan here.
Amid widespread public concern over the handling of the Irish debt crisis, a high-level European official admitted elements of the fiscal compact were written with the objective of avoiding a public vote in Ireland.
“We drafted the text for the treaty so that he has a chance to avoid a referendum,” the official said in, reference to the Taoiseach Enda Kenny.
The European official also said he agreed with the recent comments of Irish transport minister Leo Varadkar, who said the public could not be trusted to be objective about the Treaty. “It is nothing to do with democracy,” he said.
Sinn Fein accused the coalition government of running scared from a referendum,. A recent poll indicates it is supported by an overwhelming majority of the electorate.
“The Taoiseach has said that the government have nothing to worry about in terms of a referendum. Well, call a referendum,” said Donegal North East TD Padraig Mac Lochlainn. “Three-quarters of the Irish people in a poll have said that they want a referendum to take place. If he is sincere, his action has to match his words.”
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams said Irish citizens must have their say and if the government sought to avoid a referendum his party would pursue all options, including a legal challenge to ensure one took place.
“Irish citizens must have their say on a treaty with such far-reaching implications for this country. Irrespective of what advice the Government gets from the Attorney General, a referendum is now a democratic imperative,” he said.
“Sinn Fein is receiving independent legal advice on this issue. If the Government, as it appears likely, seeks to avoid a referendum then Sinn Fein will actively pursue all possible options, including the legal option, to ensure that Irish citizens have their say.”
Mr Adams also castigated the Taoiseach for playing a visibly submissive role at the summit, where French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy and other leaders were seen to pat him on the head.
Mr Adams accused Mr Kenny in the Dail of being “buddy, buddy” with Nicolas Sarkozy and playing the “amadan” [fool].
“It is inappropriate for a Taoiseach to act like an eejit [idiot] when he meets the French president”, he said.
Breaking with the usual alliance with Fine Gael on European issues, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said “there is a case for consulting with the people” in relation to the treaty.
He said this should take place irrespective of the legal position, adding that, on European issues, there was “an absolute need to bring the people with you at crucial junctures”.
Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins said the fiscal compact was a treaty for “permanent austerity” and provided for permanent attacks on the living standards and public services of ordinary Europeans.
Mr Higgins’s United Left Alliance and the group of Independents in the Dail has said it will petition the President under article 27 of the Irish constitution to hold a referendum if the Government blocked it. Such a move requires the support of one third of Dail members and over half of the state’s Senators, involving some support from members of the government parties in both houses of parliament.
The Taoiseach has said only that the Cabinet would act on the Attorney General’s advice when it becomes available in about two weeks.